- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

Hedrick Smith takes the audience along on a long but ill-focused cross-country journey to examine how working Americans provide child care and elder care for their dependents in his "Juggling Work and Family" on PBS.

The quandary of managing family life and work at the same time transcends racial and economic lines. Mr. Smith finds that the same worries about not giving your child or children enough love or time exist whether you are a Boston lawyer or a hotel housekeeper in Washington.

But here is where the show starts running into problems. Are we talking about someone who doesn't have to work to support a family because the spouse is earning enough, or someone who has to work to make enough money to pay the rent? Mr. Smith puts it all in one pot.

In the promotional material for the show, Mr. Smith promises to take an in-depth look at the juggling act. But the two-hour program while raising important questions is repetitive.

If the intention is to highlight the tension people feel when trying to be high-performing workers as well as caring and nurturing family members, then Mr. Smith has achieved his goal. He portrays the two tasks as being as contentious as competing Super Bowl teams. But if the intention is to delve into the issue and give answers, the program fails. It's just as nebulous as the national debate it intends to fuel.

While using a gargantuan canvas to include dozens of families and employers to paint the picture of juggling households, Mr. Smith avoids a very important aspect of child care. Where are the grandparents or other family members who could help give cheap or free care?

Some of the few answers we get to the juggling-act question are employer-subsidized child care, shift work (one parent working nights, the other days), part-time work and job sharing to allow more flexible hours.

But few of those interviewed seem very happy with their choices. Either they miss work if they have become a full-time parent or they feel torn to shreds between family and work obligations. Maybe instead of "Juggling " the title should have been "Enduring Work and Family."

The picture we get is so bleak, with most parents looking as though they haven't slept for a decade, the show could be used in birth control and family planning programs.

Perhaps Mr. Smith's show will help propel us into a meaningful debate. But in the meantime, a question that is important for all of us to consider is, "Do I live to work, or do I work to live?" Once that question is answered, priorities may be easier to establish.

** 1/2

WHAT: "Juggling Work and Family With Hedrick Smith"

WHERE: WETA (Channel 26)


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