So before the anecdotes, let's get the stats out of the way. Studies show that modern parents spend TWICE as much time with our children than we did in the 1950s (except in France - women decreased their time). I know folks are immediately picturing all the daddies at the park on Saturday mornings.
Yes and no, this also includes working moms that spend more time with their children than stay at home moms did 40 years ago. And get this, the trend is even higher amongst college-educated women and men. Y'all in 2020, we are working longer hours at work, many of us working to pay off debt, AND spending more time with our children. I think a midday (30-120 minute) break could change the energy in our atmosphere.
Therefore let me give you TWO totally different break-style examples.
CORPORATE AMERICA: LYNNE.
The first time that I saw breaks done well was when my mom would take me to work with her (bring your child to work day). She would push hard all morning in her corporate office, barely moving from her desk. At the time, socializing at work seemed against the company culture. I don't think there were tons of work/happiness studies in the 90's. Or maybe, before the laptop/wifi/social media/work-life collision, work and home were so separate, it didn't quite matter if you had to suppress yourself for 8 to 9 hours.
I'm not sure, but from my memory, it felt like all the quiet straight-A students were recruited to work in a version of their utopia. No passed notes. No side conversations. No re-direction. On point. On task. Busy.
They'd diligently toil away in their cool bifocals ( almost everyone had eye-glasses - including my mom, who had glasses that spread across the top portion of her face). The men wore colorless conservative suits, while the women donned monochromatic dress suits. It was quiet except for keyboards clicking, heels across the floor, and hushed work whispers.
But then around 12:30 pm, no matter what my mom was working on - she would stop, we'd grab our brown bag lunches, and void any expression, my mom would confidently stride out of the office. We’d walk down the street, eating our lunch snacks. She’d step into her magical secret place. We'd quickly change our clothes and enter a bright room with loud music, colorful spandex, and true sweatpants (with elastic around the waist and ankles), a screaming woman in the front of the room, and tons of chatter and laughs. It was the opposite of the black, grey, and cream space that we just left. I would later see that this is the complete reflection of my mom’s personality - both stoic and bright. But at the time, I saw my mom as the beautiful straight-laced mother that made sure everything was tight at home with ease and without emotional fluctuations.
I often reminisce about my early childhood, deeper than feeling loved - I felt wanted. I believe most of that had to do with not seeing my parents consistently stressed and overwhelmed. I don’t remember feeling like a burden or feeling like an encroachment on her womanhood. You couldn’t tell me that Shelby Lynne wasn’t supposed to be here. Two of the behaviors that my mom manifested was her self-control and taking breaks.
We stayed after school, had a weekly babysitter (for date nights), and had an incredibly active father. And so with her self-discipline and her breaks - my mom would retreat to her fairyland of big hair, loud women, and sweat. She would laugh, high-five other women, and make funny noises.
She’d later quit her corporate job and become the loud woman on the microphone and also grow more expressive in her personal life. But at the time, I’d never experienced such a break in someone’s day, let alone personality. I often tell my mom that she gave me more than a “good” mom; she gave me a living and breathing example of how to be whole. Her connection to God and to herself shine. Leading her to radiate love and belonging to those around her.
The breaks from motherhood and work didn’t just improve her mental space, but blessed our family with a humanbeing that was strong enough to become and create a safe retreat.
A LUNCHBREAK CULTURE: CHINATOWN
My first job out of college was at the International Studies school in Manhattan’s Chinatown. It was run by one of the most amazing women in the world. She is an Asian woman (born and raised in Asia), which is only relevant because 4 out of 6 countries with the most extended lunch break averages are found in Asia. Asian countries average (East Asian and Southeast Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore) 50 minutes for lunch.
Whereas Americans take 36 minutes, European countries take 33 minutes, and Poland and Spain (yes, the beloved home of the siesta) take a mere 19 minutes. From my memory, about 70% of the teachers were born in America. While around 40% of our parents were born in America. My principal was a brilliant human and wanted her teaching population to mirror our students. Our student demographic was the same, 60%/40%. I would say about 30% of our students spoke English as their first language or as the only language in the home.
And so it makes complete sense that at lunch - the teachers that had the same lunch block - would sit together around a huge family table and eat our very diverse lunches. Most of my coworkers brought (carb and veggie-heavy) deliciously hot lunches from home. Hole-in-the-wall delicacies surrounded us, so grabbing a whole meal out for less than $5 was also at our palms. All that to say, very rarely, would someone eat in their classroom. We’d all huddle together eating dinner-sized portions, steam and aroma marinating the entire room, and we’d talk about our day. Funny enough, we rarely talked about lesson plans, but yet shared personal stories, whether about traveling, teaching across seas, educational policy and philosophy, and also a little tv rundown (when the convos turned into intense debates). My principal made sure that lunch was our time. No one had to be outside for recess or sit downstairs in the cafeteria. And although the teachers' lounge hosted our copy machine (which was always broken) and all of our other teacher resources, folks rarely prepared for their next class during lunchtime. Now, you didn’t want to see us in the mornings - coffee in the coffee maker, fussing over the copy machine, and the paper cutter. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that there was a culture set that lunchtime was time for a break. It was a time for community - everyone was included and belonged. We were allowed to be whole humans and develop relationships with our coworkers.
Remember my good people, whatever works for you. Whether you decide to sweat it out, sit with a group of amazing people, or quietly read - do what will allow you to have something left at the end of the day. Let's not give ourselves, our kids, our spouses, our partners, or our friends the crumbs.
A little prayer - may God allow you the courage to be who He has created you to be. Not letting others' perceptions and expectations force you into a routine that doesn't align with your being. May you have the strength to advocate for your needs and the needs of others. And may you find God's peace in your daily flow.
Shalom, my friends.