We tend not to see Jesus as a compromiser. Yet when the Pharisees sought to trap him by asking if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus replied,
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).
Compromise can be the best way to handle conflict when there is inadequate time to work out a collaborative effort. When used too often, however, compromise is too easy an out, leaving all family members less than satisfied. Some family conflicts can be handled best by compromise, such as disagreements about when to serve the evening meal, where to go on vacation, and what television programs to watch. On other issues, compromise is not the best solution. For example, the Kakimotos are planning to move to a different region of the country. Annette wants to live in the heart of the city, where they both will work, while Duane wants to find a twenty-acre plot of land in a rural area some distance from the city. To compromise by living in the suburbs would leave both spouses unhappy. They will need to work together toward a resolution that will afford both of them the essential advantages they are seeking. It will take some creative thought to find such a solution.
Each one of the five styles of handling conflict will prove, at one time or another, to be the most appropriate. It is imperative, then, that family members do not get locked into any one particular style and thus lose their flexibility and capacity for finding creative solutions.
To this point, we have considered individual styles of conflict management. This has been necessary because individual family members differ in the ways they handle conflict. Family conflict must be understood, however, as involving not only the individual members but also the entire family system.
At times, the needs of the family will be met at the expense of the needs of individual family members; at other times, the needs of the individuals will be met at the expense of the needs of the family. Families characterized by compromise and collaboration are the most successful in balancing the needs of individual family members with the needs of the family as a whole. Healthy families also have the combined strengths of flexibility and structure, separateness and connectedness, as well as open and clear channels of communication that permit them to alter their approach to fit the situation.
The Social Dynamics of Family Life
The issues of stress, conflict, work, and violence continue to be social dynamics that are part and parcel of family life, and they have been vigorously studied. In this section we turn our attention to the social dynamics of family life. Stress within the family, work and family conflict, and divorce will be the major topics of concern.
In chapter 14 we will examine the relationship between work and family life and how this contributes to burnout.
Family stress is the topic addressed in chapter 15. Every family encounters stress in one form or another. We present a model for understanding stress and demonstrate how family members can work together to solve problems and cope with catastrophes. Christian beliefs and values are crucial resources in times of family stress, providing hope in the midst of despair.
Divorce is a stressful time for families. The high divorce rate in America means that millions will experience the pain and loss that divorce entails. Some of the factors that contribute to this breakdown in family life are discussed in chapter 16. We address the effects of divorce on both couples and children, concluding this chapter with a discussion of the single-parent family. Chapter 17 is devoted to complex families in contemporary society that result from remarriage and blending families. We conclude with a plea for compassion for those family members who attempt to rebuild their lives, noting that Christianity offers the survivors of divorce the hope of restoration and renewal.
Work and the Family Conflict or Collaboration?
Work and family are the two main domains in which individuals spend most of their lives. These two domains provide both stressors and resources that often spill over from one domain to the other. This idea of spillover is especially relevant as technology has allowed for the blurring of the boundary between work and family spheres. This chapter will offer a brief discussion of the development of the idea of separate spheres of family and work domains. Next, we will review some of the research that indicates how burnout is a symptom of the conflicts between work and family domains. Third, we will describe a Christian understanding of calling, which provides rich resources for the integration of the boundary between work and family. Finally, several suggestions will be offered incorporating our differentiation in Christ (DifC) model.
The Separate Spheres of Work and Family In premodern societies, one’s life course was primarily determined by gender and class. One of the most poignant examples of this is the choice of a marriage partner. Marriages were arranged for the benefit of the male’s family (Clapp 1993; Quale 1988; Yalom 2001). One would not think of choosing one’s own marriage partner but would submit and be obedient to the wisdom of the older generation’s choice.
The premodern family was seen as an economic center of production. Families in the premodern world functioned to (1) produce goods and services others in the community needed and (2) train children in the skills needed to further that production (Sweet 2014). In premodern families and in
more agrarian ones, the family business, whether carpentry or tailoring, was intimately tied to family well-being, as it was housed at the residence. Families taught their children the family trade, and consequently there was no division between the work and family.
The Industrial Revolution profoundly reorganized work and family life. The site of work was divested from the family. Individuals found work at factories and other locations well removed from their place of residence. Consequently, the ideal developed that individuals are capable of earning enough money to reside outside of one’s family residence. One implication of this change in work is the idea that remuneration is based on time rather than product (Sweet 2014).
These changes were driven by technological advancements (Frederick and Dunbar 2019). Workers in this historical period began using raw materials in production (coal, oil), and they saw rapid mechanical developments like the steam and internal combustion engine. These technological developments facilitated the creation of a highly trained, specialized workforce. Individual workers were needed who could use and repair the technology beginning to drive the economy outside the family. Thus, workers required more education and skills to fit in to the workforce, meaning that more investment was needed for developing workers with the necessary skills. Not only did technology develop rapidly and demand specialized skills, but capital was increasingly available through familial inheritance and property. An increase in available funds allowed for increased investment in industries and technology. Higher skills meant greater compensation for workers, which ultimately benefited their families.
Rodney Clapp (1993) describes six principles of family life that came into prominence during the Industrial Revolution: (1) the home and family became a place of refuge from the work world; (2) concern for children’s well-being increased, especially regarding education and development; (3) the family became the center for identity and value formation; (4) marriage and mate selection were increasingly motivated by love instead of arrangement; (5) the meaning of the marital relationship transformed; and (6) a gendered division of work and family tasks developed, especially the male breadwinner and female domestic roles. These are modern family values because they distinctly separate the spheres of work and family, they place individual choice and preference at the foundation of family formation (e.g., mate
selection), and they describe both spouses as rational individuals who are capable of making the best possible choices for their future lives.
With the advent of industrialization, families began to be viewed as a domestic haven against the cruel world of work (Quale 1988). Simultaneously, the view of the family changed from being an economic contributor to a consumer (Sweet 2014). An individual, usually the husband, could be paid enough to support his nuclear family; his children and spouse would no longer need to work outside the household in order to survive. The household would not need to be self-sufficient, because the working man could make enough money to purchase those goods that he and his family needed for survival.
As consumerism and economic resources allowed for the family to be separate from work, gender ideology and work and family gender roles shifted, leading men and subsequently women to increasingly define themselves as economic consumers instead of producers (Cushman 1996). The Industrial Revolution facilitated a profound shift regarding the cultural framework for both the family as well as masculinity and femininity.
What can be called the domestic framework for gender roles began taking prominence. This framework holds three overlapping sets of entitlements (Williams 2001). Based in gender essentialism, this framework assumes men are better in the work world due to their competitiveness, while women are better suited for domestic labors due to their ability to care for others. Employers began to demand ideal workers who are willing to work long hours and eschew familial responsibilities like housework and child-rearing.
The second and third entitlements associated with the domestic framework are the male expectation that they can fulfill the ideal worker role and the female expectation that their lives be defined through caregiving (Williams 2001). Only clearly separating work and domestic domains by gender allows males to identify as ideal workers. By entering the workforce as ideal workers, males identify themselves as breadwinners facing a cruel and often hostile world. Breadwinners are expected to take sole responsibility for the economic well-being of their families, and therefore they cannot be expected to also share domestic responsibility. As females remain in the domestic home, they are expected to provide care for husbands/males and children. They are responsible for making the home into a haven for male breadwinners.
Because work and family belong to separate spheres, people experience conflict from both as job demands and family demands increase. In many ways, people are paid for their time away from their families, as exemplified by hourly pay rates. During this paid time, the job or career places many demands on the individual, which often involve the worker applying resources in order to complete tasks. At the same time, the family also makes demands. Parents are expected to attend every recital and basketball game and enroll their children in as many enriching experiences as possible, all the while ensuring their children complete their homework!
Work and Family Conflict Related to Burnout Work and family conflict (WFC) may culminate in burnout due to the competing demands placed on individuals from both spheres. Burnout was originally defined as the stress response to long-term emotional and interpersonal job stressors (Maslach, Schaufeli, and Leiter 2001). The emphasis in this definition is on the personal or individual’s experience of burnout, usually characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.
As more research pointed to the organizational contributions to burnout, the definition was expanded. Burnout results from a “major mismatch between the nature of the job and the nature of the person who does the job” (Maslach and Leiter 1997, 9). This definition expands on the intrapersonal experience of burnout to include aspects from the organization that contribute to this mismatch, including (1) work overload, (2) lack of control over work, (3) lack of reward, (4) lack of community, (5) lack of fairness, and (6) values conflict (Maslach and Leiter 1997). Higher amounts of things like conflict over organizational values and work overload along with lower levels of personal control, perceived rewards for work, and fairness contribute to higher levels of burnout. One challenge here is that burnout is conceptualized as an experience instead of a discrepancy in social domains. That is, people understand burnout as the experience of exhaustion and often do not focus on the causes in work and family spheres.