The Balancing Act of Adult Life
Life in the 21st century seems more complex than ever, as adults cope with the demands of multiple roles, the stresses of a fluid workplace, and the pressures of child and elder care. Individuals feel compelled to update their work-related knowledge and skills and to keep up with the proliferation of information. Family resource management is increasingly complex, with expanded choices and decisions that must be made about utilities, banking, investments, retirement planning, etc. The Internet has simultaneously made it easier to access information, yet more complicated to apply critical judgment to what one finds. Many of us feel, as Kegan (1994) put it, “in over our heads” as we strive to “balance” our life domains.
A long list of causes for these increased demands is easily found (Daly 2000; Niles, Herr, and Hartung 2001): technological advances; the changing nature of work, workplaces, and working relationships; international economic competition; the changing demographics of workers, families, and communities; and longer life spans, among others. Adults have always had roles and responsibilities as workers, family members, citizens, consumers, and community members. However, role expectations have changed. For example, workers now have increased responsibility for decision making, teamwork, and their own career development. Family responsibilities are complicated by single parenthood, blended families, longer-lived elders, and more women in the work force. Citizens must be informed not only about local and national issues but global ones as well. As consumers of health care, individuals are urged to inform themselves about treatment options and participate in decisions about their care.
These subjects comprise what Kegan (2000) calls “the hidden curriculum of adult life” (p. 45); in this curriculum, adult roles—parenting, partnering, working, and living in an increasingly diverse society—are “courses” in which we are enrolled. This Digest describes a selection of adult education approaches to helping individuals negotiate the curriculum of life challenges.
Beyond Life Skills
In the 1990s, work/life balance caught the attention of researchers, policymakers, and employers, resulting in the development of a range of employment benefits, legislation, and programs aimed at helping people cope. Life management or family/career management curricula emphasize coping through the development of skills in communication, interpersonal effectiveness, and money, time, stress, and household management (e.g., California Community Colleges 1998; Mathieson 1999). As Caproni (1997) notes, research, policy, and practice focused on work/life balance have raised important issues and brought about changes that have benefitted some families. However, these approaches are incomplete in several ways.
As Niles et al. (2001) point out, the usefulness of these types of responses benefits different segments of...