Family and Work: The Family's Perspective
The Australian Institute of Family Studies was commissioned in February 2001 to conduct a study that would parallel US research conducted by Ellen Galinsky. The primary aim of the research was to compare and contrast the themes that emerged from semi-structured interviews with parents and children in Australia with the themes identified by Galinsky (1999)..
The Australian Institute of Family Studies was commissioned in February 2001 by the former Department of Family and Community Services, following a recommendation from the Marriage and Family Council, to conduct a study that would parallel US research conducted by Ellen Galinsky. The primary aim of the research was to compare and contrast the themes that emerged from semi-structured interviews with parents and children in Australia with the themes identified by Galinsky (1999).
The secondary aims of the research were to explore child and parent perspectives on how work impacts on parent-child relationships and child wellbeing, with attention to the concordance or discordance between parents and children from the same family. Furthermore, the research aimed to consider the ways in which parents work at maintaining positive parent-child relationships and child well-being.
It was intended that the project interview parents and children from approximately 50 families. Upon completion of the project, 69 parents and 71 children from 47 families were interviewed, each individually. Interviews with each adult took approximately 1 hour, and interviews with each child took approximately half an hour. The children ranged in age from 8 to 21, with most children being in the age range of 10 to 12 years old.
This report provides an assessment of the findings, including identification of issues that may warrant further investigation or provide an impetus for future theoretical or policy development. In particular this report examines how parents and children perceive the impact of work on parent-child relationships - both in general and in their own families - and the ways in which parents and children consider that positive relationships can be maintained when parents are engaged in the labour force.
One of the main outcomes of this project was the presentation and delivery of a paper at the conference entitled "Work and Family: Listening to Our Children" which was organised by the former Department of Family and Community Services and the Marriage and Family Council. Ellen Galinsky was the keynote speaker at this conference, and a paper based on this project, entitled "Family and Work: the Family's Perspective", was also presented as a keynote speech.
Key Findings of the Research
Children's satisfaction in relation to parents' time spent working:
Children and parents were asked specifically whether they felt that they had enough time with each other. The pattern of responses to the two questions revealed that it was inappropriate and potentially misleading to reduce analysis of the work-family relationship to purely the number of hours worked by parents. All possible combinations of employment and satisfaction with family time were observed in the sample. There were parents working full-time whose children felt that they worked about the right amount of time, and with whom they spent enough time. There were parents working part-time whose children said that they worked too much, and with whom the children would like to spend more time. Between these two extremes, all other possible combinations were observed.
Parents' satisfaction with time spent with children in relation to time spent working:
Parents' judgements about whether they had enough time with their children were also not directly related to hours of employment. Some parents working full-time were very satisfied with the amount of time they had, while some parents working part-time felt that they would like more time with their children. While actual hours worked did not necessarily relate directly to feelings about time spent with children for some parents, many parents talked about using job flexibility to allow them to spend critical time with children. Most of the parents in the sample had made significant changes to the way that they worked since they had their children, often in the direction of 'scaling back'. Some of these changes were induced by circumstances, but many were changes that parents made in an effort to better manage work and family issues. It was noticeable that it was primarily mothers who were utilizing these 'scaling back' strategies, although several fathers expressed a desire to take turns with their partners.
Importance of the nature of time spent together:
The amount of time that children spent with their parents mattered to both children and parents, but it was not just the amount of time that was important for the quality of family functioning. The nature of the time spent together mattered too. Children and parents talked about sharing both focussed activities and relaxed time doing everyday kinds of things. The way that children expected parents to share in their everyday lives varied with the age and developmental stage of children. When the children were primary school aged, they appeared to want their parents to be involved in their lives at primary school. For example, the younger children definitely wanted parents to come to special events at school, and identified being picked up from school by parents as a critical point where parents could learn about their lives. Older children, from upper primary grades onwards, were more ambivalent about parental involvement in their school lives, but there was a strong sense that they still expected parents to be interested.
Children's views of the benefits of parental work:
While they had preferences for how much time they spent with parents, and the nature of the time spent with parents, none of the children thought that parents should be present in their lives all the time. Virtually all the children accepted the need for and/or desire of parents to work, and all could identify the benefits of parental employment, particularly in the case of their own experience. When asked whether parents' working was good or bad for children in a general sense, nearly all the children and their parents responded sensibly with conditional statements such as "it depends". Children of all ages could see that there were financial benefits of working, and older children also talked about less tangible benefits such as increased responsibility and confidence. Parents talked about the benefits for children of having a parent whose self-esteem was strong, and who had a broad world outlook. Nearly all the children and parents noted that one of the bad things that could follow from "too much" work was a loss of time spent together.
Importance of flexible work practices:
For parents, there was a strong sense that the parents' prior expectations about whether they would work when they had children, and their beliefs about the impact of work on children, had an impact on both their own and their children's satisfaction with time spent together. It seemed to be the case that some of the children expressing dissatisfaction with their time with parents were reflecting the parent's dissatisfaction. Whether the children are conscious of the parent's feelings from overt statements or subtle cues, the consequence may be poorer family functioning. This is important, as parents who feel that they don't have enough time with their children are often not in a position, either financially or socially, to change. Parents in this position often seemed to be working in the least flexible jobs. For these parents and children, strategies involving family friendly workplace initiatives would have particular importance.
Children's future intentions:
Based on the future intentions of the children interviewed for this study, the issue of how families navigate work and family is going to remain high on the agenda in the future. The children were asked whether they had plans for future employment and family. It is notable that nearly all the children in this small sample said that when they have children they intended to work. More than this, however, they had very clear ideas about how they wanted to work. Most of the children said that they would work part-time for at least the early part of their children's lives, perhaps returning to full-time work as their children got older. Nearly all the children referred to being able to spend enough time with their children.
Both Galinsky's research and the present study can provide a guide to the kinds of questions that parents should ask themselves, and should ask their children, when evaluating the current state of family functioning. The fact that there is such a lively discourse about work and family in both the media and the community reflects the fact that parents are doing this already. It is notable that all the parents who participated in this research were responding to the issue of how to manage work and family responsibilities in an active way. Many parents had developed strategies to improve the quality of family functioning. Many of these strategies involved making use of flexible conditions of employment. Some strategies were related to parenting practices themselves. The research provides an insight into the context in which families are living today, and reflects an emerging vision of how the children of today expect to be able to "balance" their work and family commitments in the future.
It is important to note that neither Galinsky's (1999) research, nor this research have either the capacity or intent to address the question of the long-term outcomes of parental employment for children. It is important not to interpret this research as a comment on how parental employment actually impacts on developmental outcomes for children, such as their school achievement, or their behavioural and emotional adjustment. For instance, a child who expresses the view that they like to be home alone after school may be saying so because they do not like being supervised to do homework, yet parental supervision of homework may be an important factor in school achievement. Likewise, a child may say that they never like to be alone, but the experience of being alone may lead to greater independence and self-reliance that could be beneficial in the long term. In other words, current perceptions may not be tightly linked to long-term outcomes. The current research aims solely to explore the immediate experience of the lives being lived by the families. This is not a trivial question. Life choices are not made by reference to long-term impacts alone - people also expressed a need to enjoy life and feel happy.
The distinction between current experience and later outcomes is perhaps clearest in the children's expression of their future intentions about working and having families. All of the children believed that they would work when they had children. Some talked about having some time off when children were young and gradually re-entering the workforce as their children started school. Most talked about controlling their hours in some way, usually referring to this as "working part-time". This suggests children are placing a high value on parental availability to children during the early years in particular.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the children appeared to be aware of the potential cost to income or career of taking these scaling back options. In contrast, many of the parents talked about the potential negative impacts of using workplace family friendly policies, including not being seen as eligible for promotion, and not being seen as committed to the job.
Many parents in professional occupations were choosing not to work at senior levels because of the perceived cost to their families. This was often because of work-related stress and the expectation of working unpaid overtime, both of which they perceived had a negative impact on parenting. It was noticeable that many of the professionals were working long hours of overtime, particularly at home after children had gone to bed, or at times when children were not around. This pattern reflects Time Use research which suggests that mothers are spending similar amounts of time with their children, but that they are achieving this by spending less time on themselves, their relationships and in domestic labour. The cost for employers of experienced and skilled professionals refusing to work at senior levels because of the perceived impact on their families is a hidden cost of some current work arrangements. This research reflects a social context that appears to be changing, or at least which many parents would like to see change. It appeared from the responses of many of the parents that attitudes within the workplace may not be shifting as quickly as they would like them to. As one father said, many organizations will not necessarily change in response to a new context, because those who lead them are people who have, in the past, been forced to make a "choice" between work and family in order to advance their careers. This father reflected the idea that an individual's own choices may impact upon their level of understanding of another's decisions.
Reflecting the statistics that show that most parents will participate in the labour force, the majority of parents in this study did not consider that they were making an "either/or" choice between work and family. Most were working and, although some considered that they were not working their preferred hours, virtually all parents were clearly committed to working. Children appeared to share this view that work was an essential part of adult life. When parents and children were asked what they would change about work if they had all the money in the world, very few thought that not working at all would be a desirable option. However, many talked about working less, or in ways that allowed them to spend more time together.
The children in this study and many of the parents reflected a new terrain of family life. Rather than adults choosing between working and parenting, most children and the majority of parents indicated that they believed it was possible to have a strong commitment to work simultaneously with a strong commitment to family. It is rare for the issue to be presented in this way in public discourse, or even in research. In talking about their intentions and expectations, the children in this study reflected a strong impression of the pattern that many of the parents are trying to achieve in valuing work while having enough time for family. Clearly work is neither devalued nor demonized by the children. Work is not seen as an "other" that takes parents away from children. Rather, the children in this study reflected an acceptance of a new social context in which adults strive to have satisfying jobs and be good parents, and where experiences in the two domains can add strength to each other.
It seemed that a lot of the families were beginning to grapple with this new sense of work/family balance. In the past, balance was often achieved across a family unit, most commonly by having the father work full-time and the mother work not at all or part-time. In contrast, , many of these parents were looking for both a personal balance and a family balance. There was still a strong tendency for women to be more likely to use scaling back strategies, but many of the fathers in this study talked about wanting to find their own level of personal balance within the family also. This research suggests that policies that support this new approach to work and family would be likely to benefit parents and children, now and in the future.
It seems that concern is often being expressed in the public discourse about the consequences of the changing roles of women in society. In recent decades concern has been expressed particularly in relation to the potential impacts of maternal employment upon children. While there is a body of literature that considers this question, other research focuses on how the experience of having dual roles impacts on workers and the workplace. Some of the literature hypothesizes that family life impacts negatively on people's capacity to work. Among other explanations, this has been argued to be due to inter-role conflict in which the demands of one role interfere with fulfilling the demands of the other (Voydanoff & Donnelly, 1999) or as structural conflict, in which demands of one role create practical difficulty in managing the demands of the other (Piotrkowsky, 1979).
In research, the issue of the relationship between work and family life has largely focused on working parents, and the stress that they may experience from "balancing" their roles. There has been very little Australian qualitative research that explores the experience of family life for working families, particularly from the perspective of children.
In the United States, Ellen Galinsky's research program into the children's perspective of work and family had a long development. A study of three small companies in New Jersey and New York, in which employees and their husbands/wives or partners and children were interviewed, highlighted the issue of listening to children for Galinsky. She noticed that children viewed their parents' working in quite unexpected ways, and that there was no research which explored this issue. In 1995 an interviewer talked "free-form" with a diverse group of 20 children of differing ages and backgrounds "to see what they thought the important issues were, to probe for the points of pain and the points of joy." Using the information gathered from this exercise a questionnaire was developed during 1996-1997, and focus groups and interviews were conducted with a non-random sample of parents in fifteen states and the District of Columbia, including 78 parents and 93 children - 171 individuals from 69 families. On the basis of this qualitative research, four constructs - focus, autonomy, support and demands - were seen as essential to understanding parents' stress and satisfaction. Questionnaires were developed for quantitative surveying of nationally representative groups of children and parents. In 1998 telephone interviews were conducted with a nationally representative sample of 605 employed parents with children 18 years or younger. Each interview took approximately 25 minutes. As a complement to the survey of parents, 1,023 children in third to twelfth grades completed a self-administered questionnaire in school time.
The results of the surveys, with examples from the qualitative study, were reported in an easily consumable form in 1999 in "Ask the Children: What America's Children Really Think About Working Parents", republished in 2000 as "Ask the Children: The Breakthrough Study That Reveals How to Succeed at Work and Parenting".
While the emphasis in the title of the book, and in presentations about the research, is on the children and what they say, the retitled edition of Galinsky's book is a clearer guide to its content. The children in Galinsky's quantitative research were asked to "grade" their parents on a variety of parenting skills acknowledged in the literature to be important for children's development. These grades were then analysed with reference to the following variables:
- children's characteristics such as age, gender, self-reported academic performance
- children's reports of:
- whether and how much parents worked (described as one of "full-time/about half-time/less than half-time/not working")
- how economically healthy the family is
- what everyday activities are shared with "at least one of your parents"
- whether the child feels they have enough time with each parent and whether that time is rushed
- other information about each parents' working including:
- number of days worked each week
- whether works in day/evening/night
- work location
- how much child reports knowing about parent's work ("a lot/some things/not too much/nothing")
- time spent on a typical workday and on a day off work ("less than 30 minutes/less than an hour, but more than 30 minutes/1-2 hours/3-4 hours/5-6 hours/more than 6 hours")
- how often child feels they "take care of parent" after a bad day
- whether parent talks about good/bad things at work
- whether parent works too much/too little/about the right amount
- whether child would work more than, less than or same amount as parent
- how successful parent is in "managing his work and parenting responsibilities"
- how often parent puts job before family and vice versa
- whether parent likes their work
- what child would wish for ("more time/less stressed/less tired/work closer to home/work less/work at home/make more money/have different boss/other/wouldn't change anything")
- whether child would manage work and family in the same way as parent.
- how often child worries about parent
- general attitude statements about parental work and gender roles
Children in grades 7 to 12 were asked some questions with slightly different wording, and were asked some additional questions, including questions which asked about specific aspects of work-family spillover and what the best and worst thing about a parent's working was.
There are some methodological issues associated with Galinsky's research, but this report is not the place to deal with those in detail. It is worth noting, however, that all tests that sought to explain differences in children's ratings of their parents' parenting skills according to parental employment were made using children's own reports of all variables. That is, the children reported their parents' work status using the response options "full-time", "about half-time" or "less that half time". Similarly, the children reported how many hours parents spent with them each day and on weekends, and whether their family was financially healthy or not. The children and parents in the quantitative surveys were not from the same family, so Galinsky relied on the representativeness of the samples to give her the capacity to compare what parents and children in similar circumstances might report. This means that direct tests of the difference in children's ratings of parents according to their employment status were made using the children's own reports of parental employment status only in terms of whether a parent works "full-time", "about half time" or "less than half time". On the one hand there are problems inherent in having children estimate variables such as hours, and money in any specific way, so having general categorical indications of such factors is probably more reliable. On the other hand, testing models that are based on a variable that has an underlying continuous distribution using only broad categories may lead to an underestimate of relationships. This is an important point because one of the strongest statements that is made, and which forms the foundation for the direction of the research, is that "in not a single analysis is the mother's employment status related to the way a child sees his or her mother or father. Neither is her working part-time or full-time" (1999, p 49, emphasis in original). The important issue of whether there are differential effects in children's ratings of their parents' skills according to how many hours parents work beyond these very general categories was not able to be addressed by Galinsky in this research. Furthermore, it was notable that in the present study, the parents' descriptions of themselves as working part-time reflected an extraordinary diversity in patterns of work, including 5 hours per week, 5-days a fortnight, 30 hours a week and a 9-day fortnight. The children in our sample were not asked to describe their parents' working hours in categories, but the parents' own attempts might raise concern about such estimates from children. Most of the children had a general idea of how many hours their parents worked, but the distinction between about half-time and less than half-time seems particularly difficult. More research is needed to convincingly answer the question of whether the number of hours of parental employment has any impact on how children perceive their parents.
Neither Galinsky's research, nor this parallel study, aims, or indeed has the capacity, to investigate outcomes for children. The focus of the research is squarely on the experience of home-life, and the way that children perceive their parents' parenting and how it may be affected by work. Similarly, the research explores the perceptions of parents with regard to how they feel they are managing their dual roles. These are important questions in themselves, and qualitative exploration of the experiences of these families can provide insight into the kinds of processes that operate within families, thus providing some clues to the kinds of strategies and interventions that may help people cope better with their particular set of circumstances. However, it is important not to confuse this kind of analysis with research that reports on how parental employment actually impacts on important developmental outcomes for children such as school achievement, and behavioural and emotional adjustment.
2.1 Sample Description
The project was conducted in Melbourne.
Every effort was made within the short timeframe available to make the sample as diverse as possible. To this end, participants were recruited through a range of organisations:
- primary and secondary schools in inner, northern, and eastern Melbourne
- workplaces, including a state government department, a large city legal firm, and two large public hospitals
- the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers' Union; and the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Workers' Union
- a community legal service
All families participating were encouraged to invite any friends or acquaintances to take part in the study. In this way a non-random sample of 47 families was recruited. From those 47 families 69 parents and 71 children were interviewed. In most cases both parents agreed to take part in the study. In most cases any children aged over 8 in the family took part in the study. While some of the families in the sample had younger children, the research focuses necessarily on the experience of family life for children aged from the middle primary school years to adulthood.
Families were paid $50 for their participation.
Despite the breadth of the final sample, research such as this does not claim to representatively sample from the population.
2.2 Family Structure and Employment Patterns
In order to allow an accurate description of the sample, all participants were asked to complete a 'Participants' Questionnaire' (Appendix B).
There were 18 single parent families, and 29 two-parent families. Of the single-parent families, 8 of the parents were in full-time employment, 7 were in part-time employment and 3 had no regular paid work. Of the two-parent families, 8 were families with both parents in full-time work, 16 had one parent in full-time work and the other in part-time work. In the remaining families, both parents worked part-time, or one had no regular paid employment. These classifications represent the families' current employment patterns. In reality, most of the families have had different work patterns across the lives of the children, so current patterns of employment do not necessarily reflect the children's experiences for their whole lives, or even the greater part of their lives.
|Family structure||Single Parent||Two-parent|
|Parents' Employment Status||F/T||P/T||NW||2 x F/T||1 x F/T
1 x P/T
|Both P/T||1 x NW
1 x F/T
|Number of families||8||7||3||8||16||2||3|
|Children's age group|
Part-time work as defined by the respondents ranged from 5 hours per week to a 5-day fortnight, through to a 30 hour week and 9-day fortnight.
Full-time – as defined by respondent.
Two-parent families with one parent in no regular paid employment – other parent's employment status: 2xF/T, 1xP/T).
NW = No regular work
Most of the parents interviewed in the study were born in Australia (n= 55), with the remaining 14 born in South Africa, Italy, Fiji, England, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Egypt, Uganda, Vietnam and the Philippines. Only one interview was conducted with the assistance of an interpreter.
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2.3 Ages of Children
Parents ranged in age from 31 to 58, while children interviewed ranged in age from 8 to 21. 40 of the children were male, 31 were female.
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2.4 Education and Occupation
The educational background and range of occupations of parents reflected the breadth of the sampling procedure. While half the sample had either degree or post-graduate qualifications, 16 parents had completed Year 12 or lower, and 14 had trade, certificate or diploma qualifications.
|Education||Number of parents|
The range of occupations of parents was similarly broad, including professional work such as social work, teaching, social science; and accountancy; para-professional work, such as nursing and child care; trades and apprenticeships, such as carpentry and cooking; admin work clerks such as secretaries, receptionists, office administration workers; labourers; and machinists and drivers.
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Just under half of the sample (22 of 47) had a family income of over $52,000 per year. The remaining families were earning less than $52,000 a year, with 6 families earning below $16,000 per year. Parents were also asked about how they felt they were managing financially. In the income categories over $26,000, the most common response was 'doing alright', except for the over $78,000 category where the same number said they were living comfortably. Below $26,000, more families described themselves as 'just about getting by' and 'finding it quite difficult'.
|Estimated total household income before tax||Number of families||Subjective financial status|
|$1 – 6,239 per year|
|$6,240 – 15,599 per year||6||2||2||2|
|$15,600 – 25,999||7||2||1||4|
|$26,000 – 36,399||3||2||1|
|$36,400 – 41,599||4||3||1|
|$41,600 – 51,999||4||2||2|
|$52,000 – 77,999||11||3||5||2||1|
1 living comfortably
2 Doing alright
3 Just about getting by
4 Finding it quite difficult
5 Finding it very difficult
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2.6 Interview schedules
The interview schedule used in the present research was based on Galinsky's (1999) original one-on-one interview schedule, but incorporated aspects of the quantitative questionnaire used in her survey of nationally representative samples of parents and children. These questions and themes were then restructured and represented from an Australian perspective, with some additional material added, including some questions taken from a study called 'The Child's Eye View of Family Life' conducted by AIFS in the mid 1980s (Ochiltree and Amato, 1985).
Semi-structured interviews were conducted in the homes of the families in all but four cases, and were usually conducted in the evenings. Interviews with each adult took approximately one hour, and interviews with each child took approximately half an hour. The complete interview schedules are included as Appendix A.
The adult interview schedule covered the following areas:
- Parent's Employment – current paid work undertaken; reasons for working; hours worked; preferred hours to work; enjoyment of work; work as job or career; how decisions were made by the individual and/or within a couple about who would work, and how work would be managed; whether the way the respondent thinks about work changed after having children.
- Family's Typical Daily Routine, particularly before and after work
- Experiences of Using Non-parental Care – current; prior to school entry; when children are sick; during school holidays; the respondent's sense of children's views about such care.
- Time Spent with Children – everyday activities undertaken; organized versus hanging around time; how much parent knows about child's life; ease of focusing on child; whether parent has enough time with children;
- Parenting Self-Efficacy – whether and when parent feels he/she is doing a good job; whether and when parent feels he/she is doing a bad job; impact of work on such feelings.
- Children's Knowledge of Parents' Work – whether parent talks with children; whether it's important that children know what parents do or why parents work; whether children think that parents like their work and whether it matters what they think.
- Parent's Working Practices – bringing work home; rules for working at home; travel for work; whether children wait because of work; whether parent is distracted by work at home; whether children are aware of a parent's bad or good days at work and what they do differently.
- Perceptions about Impact of Work on Family – whether working has an impact on children, in general and in own case; what 'balance' means and whether this is how the parent thinks of it; whether children or parents have missed out on anything because of parent's work; parent's own experiences in family of origin.
- Final Overview Questions – 'If your family had all the money it would ever need, would you want to change anything about your work?'; advice to other working parents; what parent wishes someone had told them.
The children's interview schedule covered the following areas:
- Family's Typical Daily Routine – morning and afternoon routine; everyday activities; level of responsibility; whether parents' work status affects responsibility.
- Children's Knowledge of Parents' Work – do parents work; do parents talk about work; what children know about jobs; do parents like working; visits to workplaces; do parents work too much, too little or the right amount.
- Experience of Non-parental Care – experiences including pre-school, before and after school care, care when child is sick and holiday care; what carers should be like.
- Time Spent with Parents – activities undertaken with each parent; whether each parent spends too much or too little time with child; favorite family activities; organized activities versus hanging around time; 'being there'; parents ability to focus; parents helping; how much parent knows about child's life; parents involvement in child's life at school and in extra-curricula activities.
- Parents' Working Practices – whether and how parents work at home; think about work at home; travel for work; awareness of parents' bad or good days and what they do differently.
- Perceived Impact of Work on Family – perceived consequences of parents' working; best/worst thing about having working parent/s; good or bad that parents work; differences that might follow from different circumstances.
- Overview Question – 'all the money in the world' question.
- Child's Future plans – future career; family plans; work and family plan.
3. The "Time" Issue
3.1 Time Spent at with Children
As noted in the introduction of this report, one of the most important aspects of Galinsky's research has been the reported finding that children's assessment of their mothers' parenting skills was not related to the mothers' broadly defined employment status. (Although, interestingly, paternal under-employment was associated with lower ratings on several parenting skills.) In exploring the issue of how the amount of time that children said they spend with parents affected their grading of parents' skills, Galinsky reported that the more time children reported spending with their parents, the higher the grades. As well as the number of hours that children reported spending with parents being important, the number of regular activities that children reported engaging in with at least one parent was associated with higher grades for parenting skills.
The observation that employment status does not affect children's ratings of parenting skills, but that the amount of time and the frequency of engaging in regular activities does, presents a challenge to assumptions that often underlie the debate about the impact of parental employment on children. Galinsky noted a number of factors associated with spending more time with children, including being a mother rather than a father, having an income of $25,000 (US) or less, and the child being younger. Neither children's nor parents' reports of parents' working hours were associated with the self-reported amount of time spent with children. This finding is supported by recent time use survey research with the apparently anomalous finding that hours spent working and hours spent in childcare are both rising (eg. Bianchi, 2000; Baydar, Greek and Gritz, 1999).
Bianchi reported that there had been "surprising continuity" in the amount of time that mothers spent in childcare in the United States in recent decades. She noted that employed mothers conscientiously sought ways to maximize time with children by managing their work patterns, and by minimizing time spent doing housework, volunteer work or pursuing leisure activities. Bianchi also noted that other demographic shifts such as the trend to smaller families, the increased time children spend in early education, and more years of financial dependence of children upon parents all contributed to the observed continuity in time spent with children. Bianchi also reported that fathers within marriage are spending more time with their children than in the past, which would suggest that children are spending more time with their parents "even as mothers work more hours away from home" (p 401). Baydar, Greek and Gritz (1999) used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) in the United States to show that there were small negative correlations between hours spend working and hours spent in child care activities. They found that time spent at work was more closely associated with passive supervision (in which parents are not engaged with children, although they may be present) than in active care (in which parents are interacting an sharing activities with their children), which they concluded indicated that "there will be limited impact of time spent at work on the time resources provided to the child" (p 79, emphasis in original).
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3.2 Parents' Working Hours
In terms of working hours, Galinsky reported that about two thirds of children indicated that they thought their parents work about the right amount. Just over a quarter thought their parents worked too much, and a few thought their parents worked too little. Fathers were more likely to be viewed as over-working, although children who reported their family's economic health as more precarious were more likely to describe their father as working too much (43%) than children who described their family as economically healthy (27%). When the sample of parents was asked whether they thought their children would say they work too much, too little, or about the right amount, almost half the mothers (46%) and fathers (49%) thought that their children would say "too much".
In the current research, children were asked how they felt about their parents' working hours and whether their parents spent enough time with them. It is important to note that the two questions were not asked sequentially, or even within the same section of the interview schedule. The question of time spent at work was asked in the context of other questions about what the children knew about their parents' work. After an intervening section which contained questions about children's experiences of non-parental care, the children were asked questions about time spent with each parent, including the kinds of daily activities they shared, whether the time was rushed or not, and, finally, whether the child felt that each parent spent enough time with them.
As noted earlier, Galinsky did not have access to information about how many hours the parents of the children she survey worked, except for the broad-brush reports provided by the children. In this study, however, since parents and children came from the same family, it was possible to compare actual hours worked with children's feelings about whether parents were overworking or not.
More than two thirds of the parents were described by their children as working about the right amount of time. This is a similar proportion to that reported by Galinsky in her quantitative study. Of those children with 2 parents working full-time in this sample, nearly all described their parents as working about the right amount of time. In two-thirds of single-parent families where the parent worked full-time, the children described it as the right amount.
When asked the reasons for their judgements, most of the children referred to the direct impacts that they perceived parents' working hours had on them, such as whether they had to go to after-school care or not. Regardless of their overall judgement, most of the children talked about the impact that work has on the time that parents spend with them.
[Dad works] the right amount. Because it's not like from 6 am in the morning until 10pm at night, and I still see him every day.
[both parents work full-time]
[Mum works] about the right amount. Because she spends some time with us as well as work.
[Dad works] too much. [probe] Because he never spends time with me or my sister.
[mother works 15 hours; father full-time]
This was the first time in the interview that the notion of having enough time was introduced, and it was in relation to the working hours of parents, so those children who mentioned the issue of how much time they spent with parents were raising it without specific prompting from the interview.
Some of the older children supported their opinion that a parent worked too much because of concern about how stressed or tired parents were.
A number of children explicitly referred to unpaid domestic labour in their judgement of their mothers' working hours, either in terms of what she does, or what she should do.
[Mum] I think she works too much. Because sometimes she has a busy day and cooks and she doesn't get to sit down as much.
[both parents work full-time]
[Mum works] too much. Because I think she should do housework more.
[mother works 32 hours, father full-time]
Even allowing for some expressed concern about difficulties experienced by parents, it is clear that most of the children in the present study evaluated this question from the perspective of how their parents' working hours impacted directly on them. This is a naturally self-centred view. Even so, their evaluations are not just about the number of hours that parents work. Children appear to be reflecting on their relationships with their parents. Some said this quite explicitly when explaining that the hours their parents work are alright "because it doesn't impact on me". They seem to be saying that the number of hours that their parents work is not the most important determinant of their relationship with their parent. The children appear to interpret a question that on the surface is just about time spent at work in terms of the global impact of parental work on their lives.
Further evidence that many children judge parents' work hours by their direct impact on the children's own lives came from some of the children whose parents worked irregular hours.
Before he used to have his holidays on Saturdays and Sundays, but now Mondays and Tuesdays, so I don't get to see him much and that.
I think she works a bit too much, but if she had the hours moved instead of the 2 days far back [early start] the other days really high [late], and she moved them into the middle, that would be a lot better.
[mother works 14 hours in irregular shifts]
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3.3 Parents' and Children's Time Together
Galinsky asked the sample of parents whether they felt that they had enough time with their children. She reported that about half the parents reported feeling that they had too little time with their child, and noted that more fathers (56%) than mothers (44%) reported this feeling. Galinsky also asked the sample of children whether they felt that they had enough time with their parents. Two thirds of the children reported that they felt that they had enough time with their employed mothers and slightly fewer (60%) said the same of their fathers.
The apparent lack of a strong and direct correspondence between time worked and satisfaction with relationships with parents for many children was further evidenced in responses to a question about how the children felt about the amount of time that their parents were spending with them. In general concordance with Galinsky's findings, the responses were divided roughly evenly between those saying that they wished their parents spent more time with them and those who said their parents currently spent enough time with them. All potential combinations of employment and satisfaction with family time were observed in the sample. There were parents working full-time whose children felt that they worked about the right amount of time, and with whom they spent enough time. There were parents working part-time whose children said that they worked too much, and with whom the children would like to spend more time. Between these two extremes, all other possible combinations were observed.
It is notable that the children who talked about wanting more time together tended to speak of wanting "a bit more" or "a little more". When asked about what they might do with the parent in the extra time they would have together, most of the children talked about activities such as going shopping, going out for lunch, playing ping-pong and chess, swimming, going to the park, and talking. In general the children talked about these everyday activities – not extravagant holidays or special outings.
Perhaps play a bit of totem tennis or sit outside with a cup of tea and a piece of raspberry slice. And she could watch me jump on the trampoline.
Galinsky noted that there was a significant association between the degree to which parents regularly engaged in activities with children, and the children's ratings of their parents. The kinds of activities that the children in this sample talked about wanting more of were everyday, regular, routine activities.
Parents' judgements about whether they had enough time with their children were also not necessarily directly related to hours of employment. Some parents working full-time were very satisfied with the amount of time they had, while some parents working part-time felt that they would like more time with their children. Just under a third of the parents overall said that they would like more time with their children. Of those parents working full-time, about two thirds said that they'd like more time with their children.
The present study did not have the capacity to correlate the hours parents spent at work or engaged in activities with children with the grades that children gave their parents. However, it did have the strength of being able to explore the views of children and parents within the same family. When Galinsky came to comparing the responses of children and parents, she was, by virtue of her samples being unrelated, restricted to noting that fewer children reported feeling that they did not have enough time with their mother than mothers reported having too little time with children. By exploring this issue with the current sample, it is possible to consider the degree of similarity or difference in the views of children and parents within the same family. Doing this reveals that there is even greater disparity than Galinsky's figures would indicate.
The perceptions of children and their parents in this study often differed on the question of time spent together. Fewer than half of the parents of children who had expressed a desire for more time with them had the same opinion as their children. A similar number of parents felt that they didn't have enough time with their children, although their children said that they spent enough time together. Part-time working parents also expressed different views to their children. Once again all combinations of hours worked and satisfaction were observed.
Yes. I've had a life too. They've had some time, but they haven't had my total life, and I think that's fine. I think we've each had a fair bit. I don't think I would have given them anymore, whatever.
[mother, works full-time]
Parents also talked about the kind of time that they would like to spend with children. They were strongly in favour of having time that was spent in directed or focused activity, and time that was just spent hanging around.
I suppose we could go for more bike rides together as a family, more walks. I mean we used to go for a walk on the holidays, but I'd just do more things in a leisurely, relaxed way.
[mother, works part-time]
Most parents considered that their children needed both kinds of time, and that one could not necessarily have one without the other. Some parents talked about the differences between their children, and themselves, in terms of personality and preferences for time spent together. Some parents also talked about wanting to have more one-on-one time with each of their children. While the term "quality time" was not used by many parents, there was no other term that emerged as particularly popular either. One father talked about "Isolating ourselves from other things. So I can concentrate on being with them."
Some parents talked about the nature of the time they spend with their children being negatively influenced by the need to meet the extra-curricular commitments of their children. Two mothers who deliberately contained their working hours to within school hours considered the time spent with their children to be sufficient in quantity, but not ideal in nature.
I think the time is right, but it is hectic time, because the majority of the good times, they are at school, and the times you have with them are hectic times. There's plenty of it, but we are always going somewhere.
There are times when I think I haven't got a life. I'm just this person that drives cars, drives cars for a living and then comes home and drives cars.
Another talked about how much of her time with her children is spent watching.
A lot of my time seems to be spent watching. Watching at basketball courts, watching at ovals.
Some parents considered that as long as there was some shared enjoyable family time, the fact that at other times it might not feel like enough time was acceptable.
[Do you feel that you have enough time with your children?]
Yes and no. Yes, in that I think that if I was with them more, either they or I wouldn't have enough time for other things. Something about having enough freedom, not getting too enmeshed, not getting too involved. On the other hand, after we've gone camping or something, I think how nice it would be to have that much time all the time. I guess the answer is, "as long as we have those times", but it doesn't have to be all the time, but they have to exist. And they are really precious.
[mother, works 30 hours]
Some parents expressed the idea of certain everyday events being an essential part of family life and considered their absence would be clear indication that something was not right about the relationship between work and family.
I think, in terms of the routine of family, work ought to match the routine of family. So I think that ideally the family should be together for the main meals of the day, and the family should be together for bedtime, and the family should be together for getting up time. I think things are out of balance when one or other, or both of the parents are not pretty much regularly in attendance for those most important parts of a family day.
[father, works full-time, 60 hours]
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3.4 Time Spent "Witnessing" or Sharing Children's School Lives
One of the issues related to time spent with children in the age group included in this study is that they spend most of their day-time at school, so the time available to spend with parents is constrained by school hours. Many primary schools encourage, and even depend on, the voluntary participation of parents to assist with classroom activities, school fund-raising, excursions, etc. For many parents and their children, therefore, there may be an expectation that parents will participate in their children's school lives.
For the younger children in middle primary years, the perceived impact of work seemed particularly to relate to access that parents had to their school day, including this as a key time of access to children's friends. This was reflected in responses to questions about whether parents participated in children's school life. It was clearly the case that many children in primary school prefer to have parents participate actively in their school lives. Some of the younger children who were interviewed expressed this directly, and openly acknowledged that they felt bad if parents did not participate. Some parents were aware of their younger children's feelings, and tried to respond to their children with extra efforts to attend.
He's been bringing those sorts of notices home in the last 3 weeks, volunteers for reading and volunteers for this and volunteers for that and he sort of hands them over and says "Well, you can't do this. I know you won't be able to do this". Sometimes he minds…he minds a lot when I don't get to his assembly. He gets very cross about that.
[Mother of 8 year old]
The effect of the context in which children experience their lives was also noted by this mother.
Basically all of our friends have two parents that are working or studying or they have some commitment. We don't have any friends now who have really young children…so that's the norm for my children. They just accept it. But I have noticed these comments "Oh, you won't be able to do this" "Oh, you won't be interested in this" and not a sense of resentment about it, but just an absolute statement of fact.
Some parents felt that schools were not reflecting the changing nature of parents' needs.
I think primary schools haven't adapted to the fact that a lot of parents are working and…they'll schedule little performances and things at eleven o'clock and you think, well, I'd like to be there too. Now sometimes you can manage it, but sometimes you can't.
[single mother, works full-time]
By the time they were in late primary school, some of the children were expressing more ambivalence. Whereas many of the older children said that they did not mind if their parents couldn't come to activities and events at school, they usually still indicated that they preferred them to come. Older children were also more likely to express the view that perhaps it was not appropriate for parents to come to secondary school. For ambivalence about work preventing parents from coming to school events, the following response from a 12-year old girl is perhaps the most extreme example.
Sometimes I get annoyed at the time, but afterwards I think it doesn't matter, I didn't want them to come much anyway. I just wanted them to say they could, even if they couldn't. [What is it about them saying they can come that you really like?] I don't know. I just want to hear them, like, "yes, I want to come", rather than "I'd love to but I have to work".
The reason that children might like their parents to be present at school events was clear from several responses. One older boy could articulate the benefit that can flow from parents being at events.
[Is it important to you that they come?] Well the major events, just for support and just to be able to talk to them about it, and what they felt about it as well is good to hear.
This theme of the significance of parents sharing their children's notable events came out in another way also. Although their parents couldn't come to school assemblies, several children from different families described the way that their parents responded to success that they learnt about later, or major events happening.
On, no, like if they had something on, I wouldn't really mind (if they couldn't come) because if I'd won something I could still go up and show them and there would have been as much excitement as there would have been being there.
(She comes to) parent teacher interviews and concerts. Not so much sport days 'cause they're on during the day and I can just tell her if I won anything. Um, but yeah, I tell her when something's on and she'll be, like, after school, "oh, I was thinking of you today", you know.
Whether they have consciously planned it or not, these families have developed strategies to deal with the restriction they experience from working, and the children seem to appreciate it. Parents may not have a physical presence, but they acknowledge the importance of the events in their children's lives. Of course, part of the success of strategies like this depends on having a reasonable level of communication in place so that children tell parents about events as they happen.
As a final perhaps cautionary note to the potential benefits of parental involvement in children's school lives, one older child made the extremely astute observation that it was not just that his mother helped out at school that was important. Clearly it is not sufficient to say simply that parents should help out at school.
Yes it was good. If she wasn't a nice person, I don't think I would have liked it, but she's really nice and pleasant to be around.
Responses to this question suggest clearly that it is important to children that parents share significant moments in their lives. In middle primary years, children seem to feel a need to have parents physically present to witness key events and participate in activities. Older children seem to want an acknowledgment of the importance of the events and can accept that parents will not always be physically present.
A lack of understanding of the conditions of some parents' employment was displayed in the responses of some children who expressed the view that parents could come if they really wanted to. They appeared not to the lack of flexibility that many parents experience in their workplace, instead interpreting parents' failure to come as a lack of interest or lack of will. Younger children in particular may not realise that their parents, as the power brokers in the home, do not have that degree of power in their role as worker.
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It is clear that in this sample of children aged 8 and over, children by and large accepted their parents' work status, but even when judging parents' work hours as "alright', they also expressed a need to have parents available, especially for particular kinds of activities. The variety in the patterns of the children's responses to the questions about how much parents work and how much time they spend with children reveals that it is inappropriate and potentially misleading to reduce analysis of the work-family relationship to purely the number of hours worked by parents.
When there is discussion about parental employment and children, it is often assumed that time itself is the key variable – that more time is better, and that parents and children should all want as much time together as possible. This research suggests that children and parents both use the concept of time to refer to much more than either just the quantity of time, or what they do in the time they share.
4. About Work: the Children's Perspective
4.1 What Children Know About Parents' work
One of the conclusions of Galinsky's book was that parents needed to communicate more about their work with their children. In the survey of children, the children were asked how much they knew about their parents' work, and offered the response options: "a lot/some things/not too much/nothing". Two thirds of children said that they knew a lot about their mother's work and 54% said they knew a lot about their father's work. No other figures were reported. Galinsky suggested, furthermore, that parents were not sharing what they liked about work with children, although the figures she reported indicated that 86% of children actually believed that their parents liked their work "somewhat" or "a lot" (p 232).
In the present study, a set of questions was asked that addressed how much children know about their parents' work. Most of the children said that they knew a bit about their parents' work. Only a couple of younger children seemed to have very little idea of what their parents did. Children were asked whether their parents talk about their work. Most said that they did, although some children also talked about listening to conversations that parents have with other adults.
Yes, mum asks how my day was, and I ask how mum's day was.
No, not really, although I'll probably eavesdrop if she's talking to someone on the phone or something.
A number of children spoke of dinner-time conversations where information about each family member's day was exchanged.
Oh yeah…when we sit down and eat we usually tell each other what we do, what's going on in a day, if they are having hassles at the time, they always seem to like to talk about it and stuff like, and if they've got something big happening like a major project or something like that, they always talk about it.
At the dinner table mum and dad usually discuss what has happened in dad's work and in mum's work and things that went on. [Do you find that interesting?] Yes, some of it, but I also talk with (my brother and sisters).
Others commented that their parents only really talked about work if they were asked directly.
Yes, but you have to ask them. If you don't ask them they don't talk about it, but they sometimes talk about it. [Do you tend to ask them?] Yes, I like asking just to find out. They ask me how school is, so then I ask them how is their work going?
They do sometimes, but more they ask us how our school was more than talk about themselves.
Some children sounded disappointed with the process, echoing a complaint that many parents make about their children.
Not really. I usually say "how's your day" and he always says "good", so…
An important point regarding parents informing children about their work is the issue of whether the children are interested or not. Galinsky reported on two examples - one a child who liked to hear about his father's work, another who was "furious" that his father did not talk about his work. In the current sample there was a wide range of responses.
When asked whether they found their parents' talk of work interesting, some of the children affirmed that they did.
[You find it interesting?] Yes, especially Dad's. He has all these ideas that you have to think about, what other people do.
However, a greater number said that they weren't really interested.
After about two minutes I lose it. They talk about the same thing every day.
There are different levels of talking about work. It is possible to talk about work in terms of the nature of jobs, and the meaning of work, but many parents will understandably talk about the details of their everyday experiences when they "debrief" with partners or friends at the end of each day. Some children were clearly talking about this kind of "work talk" when they expressed a lack of interest.
Whether a child finds their parents' work interesting to hear about or not does not seem to depend only on the kind of work it is. The following responses come from two children in the same family.
[Do you like to hear about their work and their jobs?] Not really. [probe] It's a bit boring. [probe] I think when I was younger I'd like to hear about it and see what's going on, what they are doing. [When do you think that crossover age is where it becomes a little bit less interesting, a little bit more boring?] Secondary school I didn't really care what mum and dad were up to…and now I've gone to secondary school it's no big deal, so I didn't really care what they were doing, if that makes sense.
[Do you find it interesting to talk about their work?] Yes. [When you were younger?] It was boring when I was little. [When do you think it became interesting?] Probably when I was 9, in grade 4.
So for one child it was boring when he was younger, but became more interesting, and for the other it was interesting when he was younger and became less interesting as he got older. Whether or not the second child will go into a phase of finding his parents' talk of their work boring once again, the differences in their views highlight the need for parental sensitivity to differences between children. The consequences of the same action might be quite different for each child.
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4.2 Do Children Think Their Parents Like Working?
Galinsky's figures were supported by the present study. Nearly all of the children believed that their parents liked working. Rather than focussing on a simple summary statement of whether parents liked working, however, it is more relevant to consider the reasons that children gave for their answers.
Some children drew simple logical conclusions from their parents' behaviour.
[Do you think they like working?] I think so. [What makes you think so?] Because if they didn't like it I don't think they would go.
[Mum] Yes. Because she's always in a hurry to get there.
More children referred to the financial benefits of working when discussing why their parents liked their work.
Well, (my step-mother) really enjoyed being unemployed. I think work does that to you. It's like you want to be home, but I think they are happy because they get money for it and they are able to do things. Like, we can go on holidays and have food to eat and things like that.
Some children were also aware of the social benefits that their parents gained from working.
(Mum) likes her job because she likes all the people and everything. She's known them all for a long time – most of them.
Older children and young adults in particular were more aware of the complex potential benefits of working.
Yeah. Because she has independence and she has her own money that she needs and gets to know people and stuff and she probably feels good because she is an individual working.
Even where there were acknowledged negative aspects of working that parents clearly talked about, the child was able to conclude that, in fact, overall her/his parents liked working.
I don't know. Dad complains a bit about how it gets a bit boring sometimes, and I think Mum does like it. Mum complains about the people she has to work with sometimes. She has some people who are a bit dodgy apparently. But I think they enjoy it.
Mum yes, because it was something to do. Dad, yes, I think especially now. Every day is different for him. I generally do think they like working. Everyone has a moan about it when we have to get up early morning, but I think that is just a standard type of thing.
She feels that she sometimes has to work a bit late, but I think she likes working there.
Some children were more ambivalent in their responses and commented that work sometimes made their parents tired or stressed.
Sometimes, sometimes she doesn't. Because sometimes she's just not up to it. She's just tired, and she walks to get a fair bit of exercise, and she's just tired every time she gets home.
I think she likes working, but, like, she works pretty hard – I think she might think of changing – it might seem boring to her after a while.
Um, I don't really know. I think it's a matter of something that she's done for a lot, a lot of years, and something that she's good at, and something that she has to do, which is to bring in money. [Are there things that she doesn't like about working do you think?] Probably that it's just a bit far away. Probably that. Um, sometimes I think, sometimes it sounds like she's asked to do a lot more or she puts in a lot more and I don't think she always gets really, like, thanked properly.
One child seemed to be aware that her mother may have made some compromises in her choice of employment because of the children's ages and current situation.
[mum] I think she likes working. I don't think she'd want to be at home, but I don't know if she likes her job. I think she'd rather be somewhere else, but she does it for us 'cause we're at school. [What makes you think that she doesn't really like her job much?] Well, whenever I ask her how her day is she goes "oh, yeah, alright". Nothing good or fantastic or anything.
Another child was clearly aware of some of the issues experienced by his parents in trying to balance their commitments.
I think he likes it more than where he used to work but he has much more things to do. He's more busy. [probe] Because I've asked him whether he likes it, 'cause he only worked at his other job for about 18 months because he didn't like it. [So are there things that your dad doesn't like about working now at his job?] I think he'd probably prefer to be a bit more flexible. Mum can be more flexible with her work and dad's more – you have to do this, you have to do that.
Several children spontaneously referred to an alternative to working.
Well, I think they would like to stay home with us more.
Oh, if you gave them money then I don't think they would be working, but that's about everyone's choice…Mum, she knows what to do and she's generally happy about it. She doesn't seem to come home every night depressed and everything.
An older child talked about a parent who had been in the work-force for a long time and who no longer enjoyed his work.
[About father when younger] Like, he really enjoyed it, he had been doing it since he was 16, but he got sick of it a long time ago and now he is just sitting it out because he needs the money, sort of thing.
Only one child stated quite categorically that his parents didn't like working. His perception was borne out in the interview with his father. However, interestingly, both parents worked from home in this family and were satisfied with the amount of time that they spent with their children, and the way that they were bringing their children up because of this intense monitoring and supervision.
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4.3 What Parents Want Children to Know About Their Work
Galinsky argued that few parents were intentionally teaching their children about the workplace. Galinsky attributed this to parents' continuing ambivalence about the impact of work on children, however there was no support for this supposition in this research. Most of the parents interviewed were aware of whether they talked about their work with their children, and gave cogent reasons for their actions.
Nearly all the parents said that they wanted their children to value the idea of work, and to see that adults work for both financial reward and personal satisfaction. For many this was achievable through talking about work, but for some, they felt that they could teach their children this independently of talking about their own specific job.
In part because they've got their own lives to live. In part because there's no point. By the time they grow up and get jobs, their jobs won't look anything like my job in the same way that my job doesn't look anything like my father's job. I think it's important that they understand that work is important. That it has value and that is' rewarding and those sorts of things and I think they understand that.
(father, works part-time)
In contrast, some parents talked about the children knowing about their specific job because it was slightly unusual, or because they perceived that it would teach the children about how the business world operates. Others felt it was just part of the natural exchange that should occur in a family.
We like to know what our kids do, so why shouldn't they know what we do? Obviously, there are some things you don't tell your children. You don't tell them if you are financially stressed and you can't tell them heavy things like that. But they like to know what you do, and if you don't tell them what you are doing, I think it's leaving them out. I mean, we're a family.
(mother, works part-time)
One parent said that she did not talk about her work with the children a lot on a day-to-day basis because she did not like her job. However, she said that she did talk about it at other times. This was specifically because she wanted her children to know about her work so that it would motivate them not to make the choices that she had.
I use that as an example to them. That they could end up in a job like me if they don't stay at school and become something that they want to be. And that they could end up doing something that they hate forever.
Another parent who was not satisfied with his job also said that he did not talk about it much.
It's not something I would really encourage him to do. So, from that point of view I don't talk about it too much, I suppose, because I don't really think it's something he should look at thinking "I want to do what Dad does".
(father, works two jobs, part-time)
Of course, the issue of children understanding parental choices with regard to employment is also important to those parents who have chosen not to work outside the home.
It's important to me (that she understands my choices). I don't know whether I really sat her down and said "Well, I don't work because I want to be home. I think I've said, "I'm always here for you and that's why I've never gone back to work." I'm not sure how much the appreciation – how far it goes. I think she's just so used to Mum being home that – she probably appreciates it, and she often gives me a kiss and a cuddle. But, you know, it's really hard to fathom.
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There seemed to be little support from this research for Galinsky's claim that parents are not conscientiously talking about work with their children. Most of the children reported that they knew about their parents' work and most parents reported talking to their children about their work. Some parents and children spoke of regularly sharing news of their day as a matter of course. There appeared to be differences in the kind of information that children might be interested in, and in the kind of information that some parents wanted to share. Regardless of their specific jobs, all the parents expressed a desire to teach their children about the benefits, both tangible and intangible, of working.
5. About Work: the Parents' Perspective
5.1 Parent's Employment Choices
One aspect of work and family that Galinsky did not explore in her research was the issue of how parents had made their decisions about how they would work when they had children. There were several anecdotes about parents who had changed their roles, but nothing about whether the parents interviewed were doing what they had intended.
Where this issue is most likely to be reflected in Galinsky's work is in the factor "parenting autonomy" which is reported to be a significant predictor of the grades parents give themselves, the feelings of stress or success that a parent reports and even the reporting of children's "behaviour problems" (p 146-166). This factor was measured by asking parents to agree or disagree with the statement "I feel like I can raise my child the way I want to." Although this factor was not fully explicated by Galinsky, one key aspect is likely to be whether or not the parent feels that their working has a positive or negative impact on children. For many of the parents in the current study, this statement appears to be directly related to the choices they had made about work, and how comfortable they felt with that choice. This relationship highlights other findings that there are likely to be fewer negative impacts of maternal employment when the mother feels comfortable with her choice to work or not (NICHD, 1997; Gold and Andres, 1978).
Given the apparent significance of the impact of whether parents feel that they are bringing up their children in the way that they want to, it is interesting to use the in-depth data provided in the current research to consider how parents had made decisions about work. Some of the parents talked about having some personal expectation or plan for what they would do when they had children, but often they talked about one or the other parent having an assumption about what would happen. Sometimes the family followed the plan or expectations, and other times they did not.
Well, I think, basically, (my husband) had a very good job and he was getting very good pay, and once I had my daughter she was so precious to me I just wanted to stay home. And (my husband) was extremely happy that I wanted to. I suppose it was both our decision, but once I had my daughter I wasn't interested in working. I wanted to stay home.
[mother of 14 year old]
Before we were married he said he was never going to let his wife work. Well, we were just going out, and I thought, "That's OK for you". And he was going to have his wife stay at home and iron his shirts, and I said "Bully to you boy".
[Mother, works 32 hours]
So we made a decision, because he was earning a lot more money than I was, so we made a financial decision – you don't get paid much doing library work.
[mother, works full-time]
I reduced my hours of work from full-time to part-time. I went to 4 days per week, but it was made very clear to me that that was only agreeable, as far as the work place was concerned, so long as the whole job got done. So I was basically paid for 4 days a week and going in to work 4 days a week, but I was still doing a full-time job, and that was because I was a manager and most organisations are not prepared to have managers who are part-time.
(Mother works full-time)
Many of the parents said that they had not really discussed this issue before they had children, and that they may not have discussed the issue at different critical decision points either. Rather, there was a strong sense of responding to circumstances. One mother who said that she had expected to stay home with her children said that she was urged back to work because a school had need of her particular skills. This gradually evolved into regular part-time work. Several mothers had returned to work because of the financial status of the family, either because one income was not sufficient for them to achieve the standard of living they wanted, or following a partner's unemployment. Several others had returned to work because they found being at home with a baby so difficult and/or missed the career that they had had before having children.
I found that it was very, very difficult to adapt to not working and not having that social stimulation. I'd always been in a position where other people pat you on the back a heck of a lot, and when I was home full-time I found that my daydreaming was spent thinking about missed career opportunities and so there was quite an internal conflict of what I believed I wanted to do for my family and my inability to adapt, and feeling guilty about not feeling happy at home. And feeling jealous of other women who seemed perfectly happy in that mode. But it certainly helped me to understand that career is more what I'm suited to. Not to say that I was an embittered person, but rather I knew that it was not something that I would ever feel I had adapted to.
[mother, works full-time]
When I first had (my second child) I was never returning to work…dream…but then I think you miss something in your life – you as a person and also that career. So after about 12 months I went into a new phase of nursing and that's where I continued.
[mother, works part-time - originally shift-work]
Even where there was apparent clarity of their decision making, some parents (mothers in particular) talked about the guilt that they felt, or the sense of conflict that endured. This appeared to lead to a constant search for the best way to combine work and a family. Many of the mothers in particular had chosen to work part-time and often within school hours, or to work night or early shifts, so that children would not be on their own at home after school. Even where after-school care was available, there was a general consensus among parents that it was better for a child not to have to attend five days a week. For some this was because of their own and their children's views of the child care available (see Section 12; Non-Parental Care). For others it was to do with being home after school so that children could talk and were supervised.
Well I just think if they are going to talk to you, that's the time they are going to talk. I mean I know that I'll get told things that (my husband) never hears about, because if they have told one person, and that's when they have come home, they want to say it. They don't want to talk about it later. So, no, I've always thought it's important just to be there, give them their afternoon tea, talk to them, tidy up things as they went, and see that they are encouraged to go off and do their homework. Because I don't think you can expect kids to come home into a house by themselves and go and do their homework. Even in Year 12, it's easier if there's someone there with the expectation that you would have half an hour to read the newspaper and eat, and then you go and do your work. [mother, works 32 hours]
In this sample mothers who described their working hours as what they had chosen, without any expression of self-doubt were in the minority.
It wasn't financial, it was just professional. It was a career option. It was the profession I had chosen and neither of us considered disbanding our career for child minding. We saw that as something else. It wasn't your profession…The children fitted in with work. I don't think hardly ever we would have done it the other way. I worked, they fitted in sometime…It was not a choice to work, but it was a choice to have children.
[Mother works full-time]
In several families where the mother expressed a strong commitment to her career, fathers had also taken a turn at reducing their working hours when the children were young.
(My wife) was always clear that having children, as far as she was concerned, didn't mean that she was going to stop working, and I think that the sort of society norm is that with a couple if you have children and somebody's got to stop working it's got to be the wife. So she was always quite clear that it wasn't going to be her.
(father, worked part-time for about a year; both work full-time)
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5.2 Parents' Experiences of Work
Once parents have made a decision to work, they then face the issue of how their experience of work impacts on their parenting role, and how this experience in turn affects other decisions about working. Galinsky's parent survey investigated aspects of work that were hypothesized to impact on the spillover between work and family. She reported that stress at work was predicted by four broad factors: job demands, focus, job quality and support at work. Job demands were indicated by the number of hours worked, the number of days worked per week, whether a job entailed overnight travel, whether work had to be taken home and how much pressure a worker experienced. Focus was indicated by how much difficulty a respondent had in focusing at work, how much multitasking was required in the job, and how often they were interrupted in their work. Job quality was conceptualized as being indicated by autonomy, learning opportunities, job challenge, and how meaningful the work was. Support at work related to support from supervisors, coworkers and the workplace culture.
Parents in the present study were not asked detailed questions about their workplaces and the conditions that they have in their jobs. However, in answering questions about what work they did, why they worked, and how work and family interacted, many parents talked about some of these issues.
Many of the mothers interviewed, and some of the fathers, described their current working hours as not their preferred hours. For some this had impacted on their enjoyment of working. These parents were clearly struggling with feeling comfortable about the way that they are working, and they referred directly to the impact that they believed it had on their capacity to parent.
For the most part would you say you enjoy working?
No. I suppose it's mixed. If I could work in a way that I could look after him or spend more time with him and be available, yes I would. But it's a major issue for me because I can't do that and probably for the last 3 years (my son) has been very open in his requests. "Mum, can we do this, or Mum can we do this differently". He hates being in after care and that has been a constant struggle. So the guilt factor as well. And trying to, I suppose, have a young kid understand financial pressures and not wanting them to be really expose to it. But then they have to have some reality, as sometimes it is mission impossible to do everything they want done.
[ mother, works full-time]
While actual hours worked did not necessarily relate directly to feelings about time spent with children, many parents talked about the value to them of any job flexibility they had, which allowed them to spend critical time with children. Often they referred to themselves as "lucky" that they had the flexibility to be able to respond to special circumstances or demands. Parents who could take leave to care for sick children also often considered this as good fortune, referring to being lucky to have a boss who understood, and would let them go to deal with an emergency. Where no leave was allowed a parent might have to lie and say that they were sick themselves in order to be able to care for a sick child.
Where parents used such work allowances they were conscious of making trade-offs, or possibly experiencing negative career consequences.
The flexibility I think is probably the most important thing for me at the moment, while the children are still fairly young…In order to earn more money, I'd have to look at a job where I was full-time at the one place, and probably start looking at some sort of more senior position I guess. I'd have to start being a bit ambition and it's hard to trade that off with…Well, I'd have to trade some of the flexibility off for that. And I'm not really willing to do that at the moment.
(single mother, works multiple jobs)
I've heard the gossip: "Can't give so and so a senior allotment, because look at how many days they have been away and isn't it dreadful". So it is slightly at the back of my mind, how can you say "stick it up your jumper – it's my child and he comes first", and the other half's thinking "I've got to be careful how many days I take off."
(Mother , works full-time)
Where I've been in a situation where I've had management that is supportive it made a bit of a difference, but otherwise it's been quite difficult because it's also about a lot of managers have this perception that if you ask for some other - or for your personal needs to be considered in terms of being a parent - you're not committed to your job and that raises all those other issues, questioning your professionalism and your commitment which for me has been a bit of an on-going frustration because I see them as totally different issues.
And it does, I suppose, also have an effect on…I mean, I'm not particularly ambitious, but if there are certain positions that I wanted to go for and I felt I was quite capable of doing, I wouldn't get a look in because of the perception that is had about "she's not committed and she's not serous because her commitment lies with her kid", and I find that a bit constraining as well.
(single mother, works full-time)
This was not just an issue for mothers.
Yes, you've certainly got to manage the political situation. You have to make sure that people know how much effort you're putting in.
(father works 60 hours)
The need for the worker to take the initiative in taking advantage of workplace flexibility was raised by another father who had made a decision to change his work because he felt his former workplace had contributed too many negative impacts on his family life.
I think you have to balance it because your work will never do that for you. Work places talk about it a fair bit, but, by and large – particularly the kind of large bureaucratic organizations that we work for, are run by people who've already made that decision, and it's in favour of work – that's how come they're running it. So you've got to make the decisions yourself.
(father, works full-time)
In offering advice to working parents, the issue of flexibility was raised by several parents.
I think I would be saying if you are fortunate enough to have a job that is flexible then to actually use that flexibility and not let work seduce you into being too focused on work. And try to take some of that flexibility so you can have time at home at certain periods. Whether it is longer holidays or shorter working hours or days, to try and balance that.
(mother, works full-time)
This issue of the significance of workplace factors in predicting positive spillover between work and family is something that Galinsky raised, and yet, as this father indicated, the kinds of people who have often risen to positions of influence in organizations have clearly made a choice that is different to the choice that some of their employees are indicating that they would like to make. This is likely to impact on the degree to which family friendly policies are both available, and likely to be used without fear of negative consequences.
You've got organizations who are run by people who have essentially made that decision – and in some cases made it in a very obvious fashion – of people who have been given the choice of career advancement or retaining their family.
In couples with both parents working full-time, both tended to use aspects of work flexibility to share the pre and post-school responsibilities. There appeared to be some inequity in how parents dealt with the need to care for sick children, however, with parents reporting that mothers were more likely to take time off to care for a sick child.
As might be expected, there were some parents who expressed dissatisfaction with their working hours, but who said that they could not afford to change. About a quarter of the parents indicated that the hours that they were currently working were not their preferred hours. All but two of these parents said that they would like to spend more time with their children. Some of these parents said that their jobs could not be done part-time, others worked jobs that were only done as shifts, or long hours, but for most of these parents the financial need to keep working meant that they continued despite their feelings of dissatisfaction. This is of concern because of the reported impact that parents' feelings about whether they are doing the right thing or not has on their children. One parent who was not happy with her working arrangements clearly identified this as an overwhelming factor affecting how she felt about her parenting.
I mostly think I do (feel that I'm doing a good job as a parent). It's probably 50/50. But I think it's more about work and not having time. Because it's not the way I want to do things, or the way I think (my son) would like things to be, so we've both got the same headset. We're all kind of not entirely happy with the arrangement.
(mother, works full-time)
It appeared from the parents' responses to these questions that most parents were making work decisions on a fairly independent basis. While some might make reference to their partner and what they were doing, it seemed that few couples were actually going through a deliberate decision-making process together. Instead it appeared that there were many assumptions being made about each other's view-point.
I know (my wife) has changed jobs and careers, and that's fine, but she does it with not a lot of consultation. She seems to be able to do that. Whereas if I wanted to change and up and do something else, it's a family thing – so it's very much still a "breadwinner" role, although (my wife) would probably deny that.
[father works full-time]
In contrast to this apparent norm, one couple talked about recently coming to an agreement about how to share the work-load.
Part of the agreement that (my wife) and I came to a few years ago, was that I would take a step back in having these stressful jobs, and so she'd start working, so instead of one us earning a big income and the other one not working, it's better just to share the workload. So we really made a conscious effort some years ago to do that, and we're slowly getting to that point.
(father, temporarily unemployed)
The incredibly dynamic nature of the employment patterns of parents is revealed in this family. The wife had returned to study and was working full-time and enjoying her job; however, she was constantly re-evaluating how she felt about her choices.
I'm just very conscious of time going very quickly and also now having gone through Uni and working – they've been tremendous experiences and life changing, but now I'm looking back, I'm able to …I just want to be able to give myself a few more choices whilst my children are still this age. And whilst I still can have some real quality time with them. I want to give myself some choices to really enjoy them, and not be under this pressure of study or work situation. But also not just…I don't want to go back to full time mothering.
Clearly this family will keep on changing in response to both their circumstances and how they evaluate its impact on both the children and themselves. It was notable that many of the parents in our sample had made significant changes to the way that they work during the lifetime of their children. Some of these changes were induced by circumstances, such as marriage breakdown, but many were changes that parents made in an effort to better manage work and family issues. Some parents had changed jobs to reduce pressure, although they lost work status and income. Some rejected jobs that involved too much travelling. Some parents who had chosen shift work as an ideal arrangement when their children were young because it meant that children were always cared for by parents, had re-evaluated the suitability of such work as their children got older. For most parents, the theme underlying their change was a search for more flexibility to allow them to meet family obligations. This increased flexibility was associated with reduced levels of stress for many parents. This research would indicate that there are a lot of very capable employees who are choosing not to fully engage in the labour market because they cannot do so with the kinds of conditions that they believe are necessary to successfully combine work and family.
The themes that emerged from these responses reflect research by Becker and Moen (1999), which identified three different strategies used by dual earner couples (with and without children) to reduce and restructure commitment to paid work. These were described as "placing limits"; "having a one-job, one-career marriage"; and "trading off". Couples who place limits try to limit the degree to which work encroaches into family time by doing such things as limiting their hours worked, refusing over-time, turning down jobs with travel, and rejecting relocation. Some couples will differentiate between having a job and a career. One partner will be the primary breadwinner, pursing a career, while the second will have a job that is not seen as such a commitment either physically or emotionally. Becker and Moen noted that it was generally the women in couples who used these strategies, "although in some couples husbands and wives trade family and career responsibilities over the life course" (p 995). This notion of taking turns at which strategies are used was described as "trading off" by Becker and Moen.
The parents in this study who made the choices to use scaling back strategies were aware that there may be a cost to their careers.
[Asked to reflect on the way that work patterns have paralleled children's growing up.] It seems to be a common pattern I think, for a lot of women. I've identified one of my staff who I feel could certainly rise to be a manager. If I move higher she'd be the natural choice. But I also know her children are of an age where she will suppress that ambition for a period of time because it's too difficult. There is a sense that you're doing something wrong to other people who rely on you. That's a very strong feeling.
(mother of 2 children, aged 18 and 16)
Despite this, for most who had made changes, the feedback was often obvious and immediate.
I announced that there was no more night shift for me and he raised his hand in the air and said "Yes!" like that, in a show of triumph because he used to say, "why couldn't you be at home on weekends like other daddy's?"
(father, works full-time)
When I stopped working in that management role, my step-son summed it up by saying, telling me not to take offence by this, but he thinks I have had a personality change since I came off work! I pointed out that this was really me.
[step-mother who changed to job with less responsibility and fewer hours]
Not all parents were reducing hours or down-shifting the kind of jobs they did. There were a number of parents in the sample who were increasing their hours of work as their children were getting older. The way that work engagement follows the children's development was also noted by parents making these choices.
With primary school, in the earlier days, there was more involvement, but as they got older I backed out a bit. And so I think that I understood it (their lives) a lot more then, so it's a gradual change and a gradual transition, which is not necessarily a bad thing, because it sort of matches their social development and what they need, so I think it's coincided. I'm sort of distancing from their lives and it's coincided with their social development.
[mother, works 68.4 hours over 2 weeks; children 12 and 15)
Some parents were also studying with a view to future full-time employment or career changes as they perceived their children becoming more independent. Some talked about working so that they would have a broader experience of the world, which they could share with their children as they became more independent. The parents in this study revealed what a dynamic process the navigating of work and family is, and how many will make changes to their employment status in response to the perceived needs of family life.
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5.3 Working at home
Consistent with recent reports of professionals doing increasing amounts of unpaid overtime work, many of the parents, particularly those in professional occupations, reported that they worked from home in the evenings. Most talked about working after the children were asleep so that they did not let work interfere with family life, however this was acknowledged to be difficult, as the parent would be tired and may not work very effectively. Working earlier in the evening, when the children are not in bed, however, can also be ineffective because of interruptions. The issue of children getting older and bedtimes getting later was raised by one parent whose unstated rule is to only work after the children have gone to bed. His response clearly indicates an acceptance of overwork.
One of the problems we're actually going to face is this business about being able to settle down and work from 9.30 onwards (which) may not be viable in quite a short space of time because they'll have their own things that they'll need to do in the evenings and we'll need to help them
(father, both parents work full-time)
One parent talking about working at home within core work hours, as opposed to unpaid overtime, in order to meet the perceived needs of children who do not want to attend after-school care five days a week. In doing this, she has clear rules about the time being work-time.
The days I pick them up early I tell them, in order for them to come home a couple of hours early I need to spend another couple of hours at work. They understand that, because the benefit for them is that they get to come home sooner. So they tend to leave me alone. The boys are very good at that. (My daughter) may come in and interrupt me, but, mmm… Once it hits six o'clock I will stop working and come out.
(single mother, works full-time)
This issue of working at home is particularly significant for those parents who have chosen to do all or most of their paid work from home.
It's very unsuccessful from both points of view because you just get started on your train of thought and the kids want something. I get irritated with that, then I get cross with myself because I feel it's not their fault that I've decided to do a bit of work and they need this or that. Yes, so it's unsatisfactory from a parenting point of view because I don't feel like I'm doing the right thing as I would like to be. And it's unsatisfactory from a work point of view because you're not giving it your full attention.
(single mother, works from home some of the time)
So being home based, one inherent problem with that is it is hard to remain really focused and sometimes even truly professional when you've got someone asking about where their drink is and you're on the phone trying to do business. I guess there is two sides to that.
(father works full-time from home)
One mother talked about the rules she had established for people calling her at home, and how she finally "snapped" with a colleague who would regularly call her.
One night I just let him have it. I just said "8 o'clock is reading time and bedtime. I cannot be worrying about this now. I'll worry about it tomorrow"…He apologized to me the next day. Luckily we get on really well, and he just said "yeah, I had forgotten what it's like at that time of the night", all that sort of stuff. And I said, "Look, let's just make an arrangement that if I can talk with you I will tell you straight up. If I can't, I will say 'it's not a good time" and can you accept that?" So that's been fine, and I've done that with most people now.
(mother, works 4 days)
This mother thought that she was only able to do this because she was well established in her job by this time. Once again it is clear that parents are very conscious of the potential costs to their careers of allowing family commitments to be seen to affect their working lives.
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Many parents are clearly making very deliberative decisions about whether and how to work. Many of the parents in this sample talked about choosing jobs for the flexibility they had or wanting greater flexibility in their jobs. Many reflected on the nature of their jobs and its impact on their parenting role by reference to the presence or absence of flexibility, even as they acknowledged that they could often only have flexibility as a trade-off for the kinds of jobs available, or career advancement.
Despite their commitment to their families, most of these parents were also very committed to their careers and appeared to resent the idea, which they perceived to exist in workplaces, that a person must choose between work and family. There was a generally shared perception that if they chose to respond to their parenting responsibilities their commitment to work would be called into question, and they would not have the kind of career advancement that they might expect if they did not reveal their commitment to their parenting role.
6. About Parenting
6.1 How Parents See Themselves
Galinsky asked parents to rate their own parenting skills and observed that employed mothers generally gave themselves very high ratings. Employed fathers gave themselves significantly lower ratings. Galinsky noted that the sample of children tended to grade their parents lower than the parent sample's averages on most of the parenting skills.
Galinsky asked parents to indicate how often they felt successful as a parent – "very often, often, sometimes, rarely or never". In exploring the predictors of parents' self-reported feelings of success at parenting, Galinsky reported that having younger children, participating in more activities with children and spending more time with children led to greater feelings of success. Finding it easy to focus, and feeling that they were raising children the way that they want to was also associated with parents feeling more successful. Having support from family and friends, and feeling comfortable accessing that support were important, as were taking more responsibility or sharing the care of the child with a spouse. Feeling more successful as a parent was also associated with the perception that the non-parental care that children had received was positive for them.
The in-depth interview methodology allowed a deeper exploration of this issue of feelings of success, and failure, in parenting by asking parents when they felt like they were doing a good job, and when they felt like they were doing a bad job.
Most of the parents reported feeling that they were doing a good job as a parent when they had a third-person perspective of their children. This might come because their child was publicly recognized in some way, or parents would be comparing their child to others, from direct feedback from other parents or teachers, or from observing them.
I can feel, well that's OK, because I know I have other parents telling me all the time "Oh, (your son's) just fantastic to have at our house. He's always well-behaved, blah, blah, blah. So I feel happy that in that situation he can be fine, when he's not with me. I feel that's good that he can actually go out in to the world and sort of, other people can feel that he's not disturbing them in any way. So I feel happy about that. But, yeah, I always feel like I can do better.
When you see them from a third person perspective. Like a fly on the wall situation where you can observe some behaviour or comment or action of theirs, that you haven't prompted, that has willingly come from them, that you're proud of. That is one of the ways – observing them.
Others talked about feeling that they could trust their children, that the children were affectionate, or referred to the nature of the relationship they had with adult children.
I think you look at the kids and you think, "they're nice kids. They're happy, they've got lots of friends, they're comfortable with themselves". You've got to see that in part as a reflection on yourself.
(father, works full-time)
I think the only real test is whether your children are still happy to come home. Whether they seek you out and whether they carry on the conversations of childhood with you.
(father, works full-time)
Some parents felt that "doing their best" or "just being there" was being a good parent.
I actually think that I probably – okay, won't make the same mistakes as my parents, but will make my own little set of mistakes, and my children will say to me – "Mum you should have stood on your head" and "we could have done it this way". Just try and do the best you can at the time and hopefully it's right.
(mother, works part-time)
Some of that just comes out when I'm just being with him and I'm thinking – "I'm being here, just being here now with my boy, with my child". And I think it's one of the most important things for a parent to do – just be there. I think that's so important and sometimes I get a really "feel-good" feeling out of this.
[Single father, non-resident]
Some parents referred directly to the way that they combined work and family as affecting their sense of how they parented.
Most of the time I think I've done a reasonably good job, whether the kids see it that way, I don't know. I never let my work really get too much in their way.
(mother, works part-time)
The impact of an unsatisfactory marriage on parenting was another issue raised by a divorced mother. Obviously there are factors that will have an even greater impact on parenting capacity than work.
The marriage wasn't a good one. Yeah, that really impacted on a lot of things. But once I was free of that…I was just a completely different person, and I'm really pleased with the outcome and I think I'm a better parent since. There was a lot of arguing and fighting going on, and it was just such a bad environment. I think they're better off in this situation as well.
(single mother, works part-time)
Most of the parents reported that they felt like they were doing a bad job as parents when they were irritable, became angry with their children, or felt that they responded inappropriately to their children's behaviour.
Well I think often when I've been put to the test by the kids' bad behaviours…I just fly off the handle. I often feel that my parenting skills are very poor -that I should be able to manage that kind of thing. But little family conflicts - sibling rivalry conflict, digging at each other kind of thing – I just can't handle that. I get very irritated by it. It seems to me to go on endlessly.
One parent reflected that it was the times that she got angry that might have the potential to make her feel like she wasn't doing a good job, but rejected this conclusion.
I think I am fairly realistic that there are times when we're going to be angry with each other.
One parent talked about feeling doubt about how she was parenting when reading or hearing others talk about what parents "should" do.
As an important reminder of how socio-economic status can impact on people's experiences, several parents with lower incomes talked about the impact of finances on how they felt as a parent. One parent who talked about giving her child her last $2 to buy a flying toy being sold for fundraising at school, talked about going to pick him up and finding that he had lost it on the roof.
All I wanted to do was give him another $1.50, but I shook my bag and it was awful. I didn't have $1.50 and I felt bad. And I just thought, things like that really bother me…because then of course he started getting angry, "It's not fair". I said "it's okay, we'll get one tomorrow. I'm really sorry that happened".
Most parents seemed to find affirmation of the way they were parenting by reference to the way their children behaved when they were with other people or in public. Some talked about the warm relationships they had with their children as a key to feeling they were doing a good job. Some looked at the child's happiness and social adaptability for confirmation of their parenting efforts.
In contrast, nearly all the parents reported that they felt they were doing a bad job when they lost control of their tempers or over-reacted to children's behaviour. Most parents did not feel that work impacted much on the way they felt about their parenting, although some felt that tiredness and stress from work caused mood spillover, which might sometimes reduce their tolerance of children's challenging behaviour.
7. About Family Life: the Children's Perspective
7.1 Typical mornings and afternoons
Children were asked to describe a typical morning and typical afternoon. The focus of these questions was on how rushed the time is, what roles parents and children perform, and whether children have a sense that their parents' working adds to how busy the mornings are. Because the initial questions asked for the children to describe their typical daily routine, they were not led to blame the parents' routines for their own experience.
Most children in the sample considered that morning times tended to be busy and rushed, but they didn't talk about the impact of their parent's employment on the morning routine. Rather than there being a sense of increasing stress with increased hours of employment, or stress levels of jobs, differences seemed to reflect differences in the children themselves. Within the same family different children would describe the mornings quite differently - not in terms of what was done, but in terms of whether it was rushed. For instance, one child described the mornings as quite relaxed, where his sister described them as "really, really busy". These differences in individual personality are reflected in the impression that some children are very organized and talked about getting their siblings, or even their parents, to hurry up.
Both the children who talked about the mornings not being particularly rushed, and those who considered them to be busy recognised that there were conditions which influenced how rushed mornings were, such as one of two parents being temporarily absent, or that they are all tired, or that the alarm didn't go off, or that they like to sleep in.
Only a couple of children spontaneously talked about their parents getting ready for work in the mornings, and the impact that this has (or had) for them.
I have to get myself ready for school. Most kids have their parents help them get ready but I have to do it myself…because my parents – they have to get ready as well and they will be late for work and I look after myself to get myself from school and back.
It was hectic because Mum and Dad worked similar hours. Like mum especially. We all sort of got up, went to school, got home, all at the same time.
For some children, their mother and/or father had already left for work by the time children were waking up, so the responsibility for getting out the door and to school on time rested solely with the children. These children did not describe the mornings in a way that seemed significantly different from others, and did not respond to the question by referring to the parent's employment status.
Well, I get up and get (my brother) out of bed. Well Mum leaves and wakes us all up, and then I eventually get up and get (my brother) out of bed and get changed, and get breakfast ready, pack my bag and out the door.
[Is it rushed?] Oh, it depends. [girl, 16]
[gets nagged to brush teeth and pack bag. Who nags you?] My sister, because Mum's already left. She leaves before I get up.
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After the children had described their daily routine, they were asked how much responsibility they felt they had for taking care of themselves in terms of whether it is "too much, too little or about the right amount?" Whatever their response to this question, they were asked whether they thought they would have more or less responsibility if the working status of their parents was different. So, if the child had two working parents, they would be asked whether having one or two parents at home would mean that they would have more or less responsibility. If the child had one parent working part-time, they would be asked whether the parent working more or less would have an impact on their level of responsibility.
Most of the children felt that they had about the right amount of responsibility. When asked about the impact that a change in their parents' employment status might bring to their level of responsibility, most considered that if their parents worked less they would have less responsibility, and if their parents worked more they would have more responsibility.
One child (a 13-year old boy) had a fairly straight-forward view of the relationship between his personal responsibility and his mother's work.
I don't think I'd have as much responsibility [if mother wasn't working] because Mum would do everything in her spare time, because everybody else would be…all her friends would be at work, so she'd just be sitting around watching T.V., poor thing, and eating, and cleaning.
Another child considered that part of his responsibility came directly from his mother's need to get to work.
Probably about less because I have to have more responsibility because we're rushing and all that, and I have to do a bit of stuff by myself to enable mum to get to work and all that.
In the context of the comparison they were asked to make, most of the children talked about not minding if they had to do more, and, in some cases, considered that having less responsibility might come at a personal cost.
I think if they worked less I'd probably have less responsibility, because they would be there, but I wouldn't necessarily like that because I like the freedom…
They'd probably pick me up from school, but I think I like walking home rather than being picked up.
Some of the older children considered that the level of responsibility that they had might not be related to the amount of work that their parent or parents did.
[If she worked less?] Well, there'd still be the same amount of jobs to do. It's just a matter of her getting home earlier. [If she didn't work at all] Oh, if she wasn't working…no, she'd make sure I still did it. Just, like, so I wouldn't get slack.
Well, I suppose I would have less responsibility if my Mum didn't work because, like, she would be able to do all the house chores and everything and there wouldn't be anything left for us to do. But I suppose that wouldn't teach us anything, you know. I've always thought if you had nothing to do, what would you do when you were older…
One young adult looking back noted the contribution that her own personality made to her willingness to take responsibility for the family's daily chores.
I don't think that Mum's working gave me responsibility. I think I took it on myself. Like, it wouldn't have been an issue for my father to dress my brother and do his hair. Like my Dad used to braid my own hair for me, but it was more fun, that I wanted to do it myself. It was just a role that I had taken upon myself and enjoyed that role.
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The children showed a great degree of acceptance of their own particular circumstances. They appeared to accept whatever their regular routines and their level of personal responsibility were. Some reported that their parents' working had an impact on the morning routine and their level of responsibility, but none complained about this. Rather, many of the children appeared to be satisfied or even proud of their contribution to family life.
8. About the Spillover between Family and Work
8.1 Mood spillover
The issue of the dynamic interchange between mood at work and within the family is a key focus of research in the work/family literature. Galinsky reported on research that suggests that stress and negative moods at work impact negatively on parents' interactions with their children (Repetti, 1994; Repetti and Wood, 1997). Galinsky explored this issue by asking her sample of parents whether they had negative mood spillover and her sample of children whether they knew whether their parents had a "bad day" at work. She noted that children were more likely than parents to report that parents never had such mood spillovers (40% of children compared with 20% of fathers; 36% of children compared with 17% of mothers, p 185).
In exploring the aspects of the workplace that predicted parents' reporting of negative mood spillover, Galinsky noted the following factors were significant: placing a higher priority on work than family life; having less parenting responsibility, support and autonomy; working more days per week; experiencing more stress and frustration at work; having less meaningful jobs with less autonomy and less opportunities for learning; and having less workplace support. Only the first factor and parenting autonomy are individual-level variables. Parenting support may be affected by the relationships that a parent has within the home and outside (although being a single parent or dual earner family was not predictive), and the last two factors are about work-place experiences. If many of the predictors of negative mood and stress spillover from the workplace to home are aspects of a job and a workplace, then the need for changes to workplaces is strongly indicated. It is not wholly within the individual to find meaning in their job, or to demand autonomy, or to create support. There are clearly some jobs and some workplaces that will be prone to lacking the qualities that Galinsky identifies as important for the experience of more positive spillover between work and family.
When Galinsky considered parents' reports of the positive spillover from family to work she noted that similar factors were significant. Parents (particularly fathers) who placed a high priority on family, received support for their parenting role from family and the workplace, and had jobs that were both more demanding and more meaningful were more likely to report that their experiences of parenting had a positive effect on their work.
In contrast with Galinsky's report based on separate samples of parents and children, the responses of the parents and children to these questions in the present study were very similar. The parents nearly all reported that they sometimes carried bad moods from work home with them. Most of the children said that they could tell when their parents had had a bad day at work. The parents reported that they believed that their children would know when they had had a bad day at work. Generally this was because the parent would be cranky, easily irritated or respond to children differently. Nearly all the children confirmed this. Most parents reported that the bad mood would pass within the first hour or so of being at home, something with which the children tended to agree.
(My son) usually picks up that I'm really uptight (or particularly uptight sometimes) and he'll say "Are you OK", and I'll say "I've had a crappy day at work." Other times I suppose I'm just a bit quiet or a bit snappy, and (my son) will come and just read to me. So sometimes I feel a bit sorry that that's on him. I don't have a special strategy because for my strategy is about time, and about being able to just slow down.
(Single mother, works full-time)
Another parent talked about being able to manage the bad mood until bed-time.
The time when it gets to be an issue, I suppose, is as bedtime approaches and I'm starting to think about all the work I've got to do that night before I go to bed. And they're doing the typical "dragging the heels" about going to bed. So that's probably when I really lose it.
(mother works full-time and does overtime 4-5 nights a week)
When asked whether their children behaved differently on days when the parents came home in a bad mood, most parents confirmed what the children said – that the children would usually "disappear", "make themselves scarce" and "keep out of the way". Some children would offer support or comfort to parents, such as making a cup of tea for them, or encouraging them to sit down and rest.
Although the children did not report it, some of the parents felt that the children were sometimes more challenging on a day when work had been bad.
Sometimes he'll be more attention seeking. Often he'll do stuff that will annoy me, or he'll do stuff that he knows he's not supposed to do, so that escalates the situation and we end up having a row. Other times he'll just back off and give me a bit of space, and not be demanding.
(single mother, works full-time)
The notion that family may buffer the effects of the workplace, and be a source of positive strength was raised also.
I think family can be a huge reservoir of support, and it's always seemed to me that the people I was reporting to in the (office) when I decided that I just couldn't, it was just too much, it always seemed to me that the advantage I had over them was that for them work was everything and if work was shit, then life was shit. For me, I could say, work's shit, but it's in that box over there and I've put the lid down on the box and I've got a family that's strong and supportive that I derive enjoyment from. So it was a way of partitioning off things that were happening that you didn't like.
(father, works full-time)
Most of the parents felt that their children might not notice when they had had a particularly good day, because this was more likely to be closer to the norm.
Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, very few parents talked about the fact that their children also have moods and bad days.
I think the kids are the kids. They're like me. Some days they're happy when they get home, some days they're not, so no I don't think (they behave differently on days when I've had a bad day).
(mother works full-time)
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8.2 The Impact of Working: the Children's Perspective
It was clear from responses to questions about time spent with parents that, while they had preferences for how much time they spent with parents, and the nature of the time spent with parents, none of the children thought that parents should be present in their lives all the time. Virtually all the children accepted the need for and/or desire of parents to work, and all could identify the benefits of parental employment, particularly in the case of their own experience.
Most children mentioned that their parents' working brought money that paid for the homes they lived in, the food they ate, the schools they went to (for some), and other things that were bought for them. Some children talked about positive consequences related to their every-day lives, such as enjoying being babysat by a grandmother, or having the house to themselves after school before parents came home from work. Some children again talked about lack of time spent with their parents as a negative consequence of their parents working.
Some of the older children talked about other less tangible outcomes of their parents' working such as confidence and responsibility gained from not having parents around all the time, learning about what work means, and that one has to work in order to be able to provide things for your family.
Well, she's taught me that getting a job or whatever, you've got to try hard. And she's encouraged me, whichever way I want to go. And I guess I've learnt a lot from how she manages things, and how she does things. I try to pick up on things to do and not to do.
When asked whether parents' working was good or bad for children in a general sense, nearly all the children responded sensibly with conditional statements such as "it depends". Nearly all the responses referred to the financial benefits that working brings, but also to the potential cost of children not having enough time with their parents. The fact that the children in our sample were rarely overtly critical of their parents' employment choices when asked reasonably direct questions about their own experiences, may reflect an unwillingness to criticise. If so, questions expressed in fairly general terms may be more revealing of the overall evaluation of the impact of parents' work on children. Time is a strong theme again, with nearly all the children referring to the impact of work on time spent with children. While these children have a general acceptance of their individual circumstances, and work is not perceived as an evil, these children are still clearly indicating that they like and want to spend time with parents.
When the responses of some children are considered in order of chronological age, it is clear that the same themes are being presented, although the expression of them becomes more sophisticated.
I think it's alright because they can save up money, and the bad thing is some people they can't see their mum or dad very much.
I think it is good and bad. Sometimes you wish you had more attention, although it is nice not to have them around all the time.
It depends how much they work, and if they can leave work at work and then look after the kids and stuff. Like, if the kids are always being looked after by someone else, then it's not too good. But then, they need the money.
Depends on what the kids are like and how much the parents work and what they do when they are working. I don't know, it's nice to have your mum around, but if she has to make some money, well I suppose you just have to adjust, I suppose. I definitely think it is better when you are young to have your mum there, just because it's good.
I think it is a good thing that parents work provided that they don't lose sight of their kids and the kids' needs. Whether it is after school or during the day, kids do need their parents, and it's just not the one. They need both, I think and I mean, it's just something that you have to do – work – I mean if no one wanted to work, then no one would be working, so I mean it's just pretty much that parents who do work full-time, they've got another job at the end of the day trying to keep a bond with their child, and it's pretty much like working.
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8.3 The Impact of Working: the Parents' Perspective
When adults were asked this same question about the impact of working on children they identified similar themes, including children learning about the importance of work, and gaining independence and resourcefulness. The importance of children seeing that work can be important for women as well as men was mentioned by mothers in particular. The distinction between the amount of time parents have to spend with children and what is done in the time available emerged as a theme.
It depends. If you're a working parent and you're working really long hours, sometimes you can't…I mean often you're too tired to be bothered and often by the time you can deal with your children's problems, to listen, they're not in the mood for talking about it any more because too much time's elapsed….You can actually work hours that are too long. And people try and sort of always use that term "quality time" and I just think it's something to make them not feel guilty.
(mother, works part-time; husband works full-time)
I find that I don't get a lot of time to spend with (my son) in terms of what I would call "quality time". It's more about just making sure that…it's the practical stuff – cook up the dinner - often by the time I get home, sometimes, sometimes it's 6.30pm, so it's late, he's tired, I'm a bit grumpy, he's a bit grumpy…and then (my son) will often want me to read to him, and I'm like "please can we do it tomorrow?", so I don't get do that anywhere near as much as I would like to.
(single mother, works full-time)
The positive impacts being linked to the kinds of jobs that parents had was also a theme.
I think the fact that both of us have jobs which we find personally rewarding is good. If you want to have happy kids it pretty much helps – it's a good starting point to be a happy parent and that sense of self-fulfillment that comes out of a job is, for me, critical. It's an active, interesting life.
(father, works full-time; mother full-time)
I would probably be grumpy and probably not be as nice a person (if I didn't work), so I think from that point of view, yes, going away, having that other stimulation and doing things that are important to me helps me behave better at home, I suppose.
(mother works part time.)
The distinction between long-term outcomes and immediate impacts was one which parents understood. Most of the discussion about the impact of working related to immediate experiences. When asked whether they thought that there would be long-term effects of work choices on children, most parents thought that there probably would not be, or at least were not willing to conjecture, although they would often then tell an anecdote about a child who was having problems and relate it to the parents' employment choices – either that the parent worked too much or too little.
It depends on how much the parents work. If children are left to their own devices a great deal because parents work, then I think that is a source of anti-social behaviour…from observation, it's the children who are neglected who are the ones that aren't sure of their place in the world and who tend to be anti-social in their behaviour.
(father, works full-time; wife works part-time)
Some felt that the long-term outcomes were not the best guide to decisions made in the children's youth.
I think what concerns me is about memories of childhood, and because that was an important thing for me, and I have a perception about having memories of your childhood that have lots of things in them. Not just school, after-care and a little bit of home. So it gets back to that thing of are the memories going to be enough, or are there going to be as many memories of time with people in your family or extensions of your family as opposed to school.
(single mother, works full-time)
Some women who worked considered that they were valuable role models for young girls, and for showing their sons that women could have a career also.
He needs to know that I go out to work. His father can do the meal and (take care of) him and it's not a wussy thing for him to do. I certainly don't want him growing up thinking that's what women do, so it's a whole lot of things.
(mother and father work part-time)
Some parents expressed more concern about the potential for negative impacts.
I'm not convinced it's a positive impact. I think that we can convince ourselves and try to convince our children that if both parents are working that you can have a really nice holiday altogether once a year or whatever or your child or children can have whatever they want. And that will satisfy them and also satisfy you as a parent and satisfy everybody as a family. I have never thought that…I think we just keep deluding ourselves that…we just keep covering those emotions or that reality within us up with something.
(mother recently working full-time)
I think it can but I think that they have to understand that nowadays that's the way things are. But it all comes back to that magic word"balance", and I think that if parents, when they're home with their children, don't spend enough…I mean I know it's this cliché saying it's quality time, but it's about you and me going for a walk with the dog. It's about stuff like that.
(single mother, works part-time)
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Parents and children had very similar perspectives on the way that mood spillover was dealt with in their families. Most children said that they could tell when parents had had a bad day, and most parents believed this to be the case. Most families indicated that bad moods were fairly transitory and confirmed that most of the children tended to stay out of their parents' way in response to bad moods. Children and parents in some families reported children taking a more proactive response to caring for parents and supporting them after a bad day at work.
The experience of mood spillovers was not a major theme in answers to questions that asked directly about the impact of parents' working on children. Parents and children shared the view that there were both positive and negative consequences of working. However there was a general acknowledgement from both children and parents that working parents had to try hard to make sure that they still spent time with their children, and that lack of time and attention probably represented the greatest potential negative impact of working on children.
9.1 Children's Wishes
Galinsky asked children what they would wish to change about their parents' work and family lives. The children were offered a choice of one of ten responses ("more time/less stressed/less tired/work closer to home/work less/work at home/make more money/have different boss/other/wouldn't change anything"). 23% of the children wished that their mother would make more money, 20% wished their mother would be less stressed, 14% wished their mother would be less tired, and 10% wished their mother would spend more time with them.
Galinsky noted that the proportions of parents in her sample that thought their children would wish for time was much greater than was observed in the sample of children. Because the answers were simply circling one option among several, Galinsky speculated about why children had given the answers they had. The significance of money may relate to children being materialistic for their own personal advantage, or it may relate to a sense of financial pressure that parents may speak of when talking about their work. The latter interpretation would be supported by the fact that the second and third most common response related to stress and being tired. These children all seem to be indicating that they would like their parents to have "better" jobs – better paid and less stressful.
Children's wishes with regards to fathers followed a different pattern. After the first response of wishing for more money, 15.5% of the children wished their father would spend more time with them, with the next most common responses referring to fathers being less stressed and tired. The fact that the children in Galinsky's sample were more likely to indicate a wish to spend more time with fathers most likely reflects the fact that so many more men worked full-time.
In the present study, when children were asked what they might wish to change, they were able to display their awareness of just how closely connected the issues of time, money, stress and tiredness are.
My one wish would be that they only had to work part-time but still got the same money. They'd be more relaxed and not so stressed and they, I guess would do more things you like, they might make me something to eat when you get home, or make your lunch before you go to school, something like that.
That Mum works less so I can go out to places and see my friends. She would be home to know that I'm going somewhere.
For Dad, that he shouldn't go to work much. Not much, but I mean not so early at 3 o'clock in the morning. Before he used to have his holidays on Saturdays and Sundays, but now Monday s and Tuesday s, so I don't get to see him much and that and Mum, that she doesn't work so much in the house.
That they didn't have to go as often maybe you could say.
Well, their work doesn't really affect me very much, but probably something that they wanted to do, like a job that they liked or something.
For them not to work and we'd get money anyway.
Probably that he would like make lots of money but he didn't have to work.
As well as being asked what they would change if they could have any wish, the children were asked: If your family had all the money it could ever need, would you change anything about the way your parents work?
Some children said that they would have things stay the same, although they might benefit personally from the money.
No. Everything would just about stay the same apart from the fact that I'd probably have more treats and we would probably have a trip around the world.
I think they need something to do. Dad's 50, Mum's only like 47, they've got 30 or 40 years to live. I think it would be very boring doing nothing. I'm sure they could do it, but I think if they were home all the time, then I think it would be very bad. You want to get that sort of freedom. I would prefer them to keep working and I think they enjoy it also.
The link between money and work was strong for some children, who suggested that they would wish that their parents would stop working if they had a lot of money.
If they had heaps of money they could retire and would still have enough money to last us. That would be good because they would have more time to spare and we'd be able to go camping for a longer period and wouldn't have to worry about when they are working and the wouldn't be so frantic.
It they had the money not to work, then I'm sure they would rather stop than keep working, but I think that if they had the money to (stop they would).
The parents of these two brothers wished for the same thing, however this was not the most common response.
Some children wished that their parents could find different jobs - jobs that the children thought would be better for the parents.
A different job. Something more advanced than her other job. [Would you think that she'd work more hours, or it would just be that it was a different job?] Yeah, same if we have all the money we need. But if she stopped working then you might fall back in that hole again.
I'd change her job. [What sort of thing would you change it to?] At home. Work that you work at home. Because then she could have breaks by herself and she could stop and relax and she would have time by herself and she would have the computer. She could do what she wants in the house.
Most children said that they would wish for their parents to work less. They revealed an understanding of the intrinsic rewards that work may bring when they said that they did not think that their parents would want to stop working altogether. Some talked about doing things with their parents in the extra time they would be available, and, once again, these tended to be regular, daily activities.
I think they'd stop working. Actually I don't think they would because they'd just be incredibly bored, they'd probably work less, I think, that's what they'd do.
Knowing them, they would probably keep on going if they had heaps of money. [Why do you think that is?] I reckon they're just really enthusiastic about their work – they keep on telling us – when you're in school, don't drop out at Year 10 or 11 or something, because it won't get you anywhere. If we had all the money in the world – they'd probably still keep on working. [Is that what you'd want also?] Yeah, but I'd probably be asking for more stuff.
About similar to school, about 6 ½ hours a day. [What would you do after school times?] Probably spend time with them and talk to them.
Yeah, I think she could change jobs, because this is her second job which isn't to do with a law firm, and I think she enjoys law firms. So I think it would be better for her to work in a law firm, because she's used to it and she knows how to dress. … And I think she could work not as much - like a bit less, like an hour or so. Because I think that's all it takes, just a tiny little amount.
Probably not. Or maybe her hours, because she gets up too early, and she would probably have to work only about a couple of hours here and there; probably get casual work or…I think she'd still like to work if we got rich. Yeah, I think she'd like to work. [Why?] Because she's been working for most of her life, just socializing out there, doing other things – I mean, you get people that are sitting here, doing nothing, or whatever. So she feels that she's got to do something.
Yes I would change that they didn't have to work as long. [probe] Definitely not at all, but working sometimes maybe 4, 5 days a week, maybe even 3 and more money for lots of things.
Well, I think Dad wouldn't like Mum to stop work because he would have to work more then , and then if Dad stopped, Mum would have to work more. So they might do a bit less, but…so I would like them to work a bit less.
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9.2 Parents' Views
Some of the parents talked about cutting back hours, but very few said that they would stop working entirely. Several who did say that they would quit their jobs, said that they would do volunteer work instead. Some parents said it would give them the opportunity to give up the kind of work that they were currently doing and try something else without putting the family's financial position at risk.
When the details of their wishes were considered, the responses of parents and children from the same family were seen to be very similar. Most wishes related to reducing the perceived negative impacts of work in some way, usually by reference to working fewer hours. However, it was noticeable that there was not a clear relationship between what parents and children wished for and the parent's current employment status. That is, some of the parents working part-time agreed with their children that it would be desirable if they stopped working or worked at a different job, just as some of the parents working full-time agreed with their children that they would probably not change much at all if they had a free choice. Overall, however, most parents and children talked about working less and/or reducing stress by changing jobs.
10. Older Children Looking Back
10.1 Older Children's Re-evaluations
In recording several anecdotes of adults looking back on their own parents' work choices, Galinsky (1999) noted that a re-evaluation of childhood experiences could occur. This is an important issue to touch on, as it relates to the fact that this study is not about outcomes, but rather is about the impressions and perceptions of the current circumstances in which families find themselves. One concern with research such as this is that the children "don't know what's good for them", so basing action upon their expressed preferences could be both inappropriate and potentially harmful. It is important to bear in mind that asking children for their opinions and impressions does not mean that the responsibility for decision-making is being transferred to them. Rather, in asking children about their experiences, research such as this seeks to explore the processes operating within families, and acknowledges the immediate experience can be an additional factor in guiding adult decisions.
In this study a number of young adult children were interviewed specifically with a view to considering how they would evaluate their recent experiences. Of particular interest was the question of whether they might recall feeling resentful or unhappy about the way that their parents managed work and family, or whether they might speak of accepting whatever circumstances they experienced without question at the time, but subsequently re-evaluated their experiences as they became older.
Most of my friends' mothers did work, not all of them, but most of them did work and so it was just like – OK, their Mum works, my Mum doesn't – that's the way it's always been. Like there is no specific point when I thought "hang on, why doesn't she work and why do they work?" I think I just accepted it the way it was. That was just the way it was and it didn't bother me either way, kind of thing.
[about father] Yes, he has always worked pretty long hours, like a 12 hour day. He used to come home from work when he was living here and be really shitty, you know. He would be working these long hours and then down to the pub and then he came back here and we were making heaps of noise, so he was like run down a bit. Like, now I'm older, I can understand why he got shitty every now and then, because I went to work with him a few times and I was just exhausted, so it is really hard stuff.
[Talks about difference for younger sister. Mother used to go to all excursions when not working. Now works] I can see (my little sister), she loved it when mum came home, but recently because she is doing a course and everything, she's had to miss a few things. I saw (my sister) was upset about it and stuff. [Will things be different for her?] Yes, slightly. But I just reckon mum will be, like she is the sort of person that wouldn't really alter that much.
[about when she became aware of her parents working]
I'm aware of it. I suppose no, looking back, at my age, it wasn't Mum's childhood dream I don't think to work in a Milk Bar, but it was to make ends meet and she did all she could at that time to keep us afloat and I appreciate now more than what I did before, but it never really entered my mind because Mum always worked full-time and it was just what she did and it didn't have an impact on me.
[In response to the line of questions about what she did with her Dad, mentioned going to netball. Was that good? Was that important to have him there?] Now, yes. Back then he was a man with a car. But now, yes, it was a good thing. He didn't really understand sport that much, but all 3 of us, whatever sport we chose to do, he'd pick us up and watch us and bring us home and then he'd go.[What are the things that are good now about that?] On his part, I think it was because keeping in our lives, kind of thing. Making sure the line wasn't broken. More of an attachment thing, like – it wasn't that there wasn't anyone that couldn't take me to netball. Any one of the mothers would have taken me to netball, but looking back now, I think that was Dad's way of having, like, a different role in my life. That was something that I did with Dad. Netball was dad, and my brother kicking football with Dad, and basketball.
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The older children clearly had taken a different view of their parents' working as they grew older. Some reflected on the fact that they did not question the "normality" of their experience at the time. Some had a better understanding of negative mood spillover and indicated some forgiveness.
Young adult children did appear to take a different view of their parents' work, although they still reflected an acceptance of their different experiences. They were able to see reasons for what they did not question as younger children, and were able to appreciate decisions made and parents' actions that at the time they may have either resented or taken for granted. An adult perspective allowed these children to see their parents as individuals making choices within a broader context, rather than only as a powerful person in their lives who was there primarily to meet their needs.
11. Future Intentions
11.1 How Children Want to Combine Family and Work
Galinksy asked children whether they thought that they would manage work and family in the same way as their parents had. 36% said that they would manage work and family in a very similar way, and 37% said that they would do it somewhat similarly. Rather than asking this question in direct reference to parents' behaviour, this study sought to reduce any effects of social desirability or loyalty to parents, and asked in a more straightforward way, how children intended to work and how they intended to work when they had a family.
Thus, responses to these questions revealed particularly fascinating insights, because they did not require a child to criticise their parents' own choices, but they did allow them to incorporate their evaluation of those choices into their own intentions. Based on the future intentions of the children interviewed for this study, the issue of how families navigate work and family is going to remain high on the agenda in the future. It is notable that nearly all the children in this sample said that when they have children they intended to work. They clearly had a sense of the personal importance of working. More than this, however, they had very clear ideas about how they wanted to work. Most of the children, both boys and girls, said that they would work not at all or part-time for at least the early part of their children's lives, perhaps returning to full-time work as their children got older. Nearly all the children referred to being able to spend enough time with their children. Supporting the earlier observation about the centrality of school as a key access point for the middle primary years, several children mentioned being able to pick up children from school at least some of the time as a primary aim of any work schedule.
I would probably try and work weekdays, like Monday to Thursday, so on Fridays I could pick them up from school, and I would have the weekend free. So a couple of days free.
I'd probably work as much as I had to work, no more. [How would you judge how much you had to work?] I'd sort of go for a job that I liked. If the time that I had to work was reasonable I would. And if it was too small I wouldn't mind and if it was just too much I wouldn't. [What would be too much?] More than 8 hours. Or maybe 8 and a half or 9, no, not 9, I don't think I could work that much.
[How many hours would you want to work?] Well, I wouldn't want to do shifts because they could end up really early in the morning or late at night. [What would be bad about that?] Well, maybe they might not get to spend as much time with the kids.
When you first have kids, take a bit of time off and when they start getting older start doing part-time work and then when they are at school you could go back to work full-time or something.
One child talked about monitoring the impact of work on her children. She referred also to the differences in the way that children can respond to parents working full-time.
I'd probably start off part-time, and then as they get older or whatever, I might get into full-time. Sometimes full-time can be a bit of a strain on your kids. It just depends which way kids handle it…
Some children were quite explicit about planning the way they would work when they had a family by considering what they liked or disliked about their own experiences.
I'd try and work 5 days a week because I'm going to try and keep in mind all the stuff I like when I was a kid and put it into their point of view so I can try my best to do it. Like, if I liked it when my dad came home on the Saturday and Sunday then I'd try and come home on Saturday and Sunday for my kids.
It depends on what the job is. 'Cause some days… I wouldn't want them to go to after care every day like what I had to do. I hated it.
The theme of the importance of achieving a balance between work and family is very strong in children's responses to the question of their future intentions. These children were fairly united in their view of the ideal way to work and have children, in that they expected to work and to have time with their children. Their attempt to quantify the way that they would achieve this goal was usually in terms of working "part-time". It is clear that all the children, both boys and girls, expected to have substantial involvement in their own children's lives, but that they did not necessarily expect to have to choose between work and parenting. They expected to be able to do both. In this they seemed to be reflecting the struggle that many of their parents were going through trying to feel fulfilled in more than one role.
12. Non-parental care
12.1 The Children's Perspective
Most of the children who had experience of some non-parental care during primary school years went to after school care.
Some of the younger children spoke positively of their after school care experiences.
[Did you enjoy going to after school care?] Yes. I got to play with my friends, I got to do activities and speak to other people.
[after-care] It's fun. [probe] Well, like having free time all the time.
Upon reflection, older children considered that after-school care lost its attraction for them when they were in grades 5 and 6. Often this was said to be because none of their friends went any more.
I don't really like it at (after care) because hardly any of my friends go and there is hardly anything to do.
Well we started at (one school) and that was a really good After Care program. They were good staff and all that sort of thing, but we moved to (another school) and things changed. And the program wasn't…well, we got older and we realized that we didn't want to be there. And our friends – like my friends, they would walk home and whatever, and because we lived a bit further away, we couldn't really do that. And, I don't know, it just got to me sometimes, because like my friends could go home and go for a ride or whatever, and I'd be stuck at school.
[Looking back on after-school care.] I hated it. [probe] The teachers. And they have yuck food, and there's nothing to do. Oh, it's OK if you have friends here. If you don't have friends it's boring.
It didn't really worry me when I was younger, because I had friends there as well. But as you get older, there's fewer friends that you can get along with – they're all little or whatever.
There were several children who liked aspects of after-school care, but complained about a particular carer. This may be an objective assessment of the carer's skills, or it may be influenced by some children's resentment of being highly organised after a day of structured school.
[About after-school care] Well, there were a lot of kids to play with there but I didn't really like (the carer), because she can get really bossy at times and she's really strict.
[about after care] Well, it's good and cool, but some of the teachers, one of the teachers yells too much. But they've got cool things, lots of cool things.
A number of the children spoke about taking themselves home after school, and being on their own in the house until their parents came home. For some this was reported as a positive experience.
- I've got the whole house to myself, I can do whatever I want. I suppose, just being by myself.
- I've got the whole house to myself, I can do whatever I want. I suppose, just being by myself.
For others this also had become boring.
Sometimes it's a bit boring, because if I don't have any homework, which is… it's just a bit boring. Because we're not allowed out of the house until Mum and Dad are home in case something happens.
Um, well it's like anything, once you've had it for a while, it's not like special or anything. It's not like good. It's good, like I can talk to my friends and stuff privately after school, or go out sometimes without…Mum knowing. Um, it's nothing like really wow, it just, like, gives me a bit more freedom.
A variety of experiences seemed to be considered the best arrangement, with neither too much supervised care nor too much time on their own.
[about after-school care arrangements. Do you like getting home on your own?] Yes, I like having the house to myself. I don't have to listen to anyone telling me not to do anything. I like that. [Would you like more of that? How much would be ideal?] Three days a week, maybe four. [About how long each day?] Just two hours. I don't like, around 5.30 and 6.00pm, I don't like being by myself. But I like it in the early afternoon.
Well it's better now, but I'd prefer to go home. If I had a choice (to) go home or go to after care, I'd choose to go home. [Why is that?] Well sometimes aftercare gets a bit boring and at home it doesn't really also I don't get the chance to have much friends when I don't go to aftercare a lot more often so I'm more happy when mum gets home from work a lot earlier and a lot more often than she used to so I can have more friends over. I used to only be able to have friends over on the weekend.
One child had quite an elaborate notion of what the perfect after-school arrangement might be, and serves as a clear reminder as to why parents would not abdicate all responsibility for decision making to children (although his plan for his mother is very thoughtful too).
[about coming home alone] Oh, it's OK. We get to do stuff by ourselves. But every time we have to go out, we have to let Mum know just in case she rings and there's nobody answering. But it's good when she gets home, because we don't see her a lot. We only see her at night time, sort of, and in the morning, and on the weekends. So, it's nice to see her.
[What would be the perfect after school arrangement?] I would come home, there'd be heaps of chocolate and food. Mum would be home, she would have a couple of friends over, drinking wine and talking, and I would be playing a Playstation or a 64 with my sister, but unfortunately we don't have one yet. And, yeah…have a really good bed, a really big one as well, with a mosquito net. I hate the mosquitoes.
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12.2 The Parents' Perspective
Most of the parents who had used non-parental care when their children were pre-school aged talked about having positive experiences. Those who had problems talked about changing their arrangements, and looking around until they found something that both the children and they were happy with. There were a lot of parents who talked about non-parental care as something that they would avoid at all costs. They may have made complicated work arrangements, such as one parent working day shift, one working night shift, in order to avoid using any form of non-parental care. There was a shared view among these parents that no-one other than a parent, or, to a lesser extent, a member of the extended family, could care for their children as well as they could. Many of the parents depended on additional support from the children's grandparents, with several saying that they just could not work without this support.
I think it's very sad because kids are being brought up by people who aren't their parents – who have nothing to do with them, who haven't got the emotional, the feeling that a parent has for child behind their motives.
(mother, works night/weekend shifts)
This mother talked about a period in her first child's first year when she worked during the day.
I missed him walking, and cutting teeth and…his first sort of tooth. Yeah I did. And I hated it. I can remember when he was sick and I took him to the doctor – he had asthma when he was little – and the doctor said to me, "What does he do during the day?" and…[you had no idea?] Yes, and it really hit home. I felt like a total fool, but that was the situation at the time.
(worked despite desire not to work, because husband lost job)
As children got to school-age there was also an issue with having to change care arrangements as the children developed. So, after school care may have suited the children when they were younger, but as they got older both the children and the parents in some families considered that a baby-sitter in the home provided a better service.
Some of the parents were aware that their children did not like aspects of after-school care.
He dislikes the staff. He thinks they are too strict. And I think he dislikes…I think he feels like…to him if feels too much like a continuation of school and with all the rules and all the discipline issues. Also that the activities that are there don't particularly interest him, and I think really his preference would be that he would rather be at home doing his own thing.
(single mother works full-time)
He lobbied us for a long time before we agreed that he didn't have to go. He probably lobbied us for about 3 terms before we finally agreed he didn't have to go…so once we got the ground rules sorted out, it's worked quite well, but initially there was, we were pretty concerned about it. But he just found after-school terribly boring, and, as more and more of his friends dropped out it became more and more of an imperative for him to drop out...And he's grade 6 now and we were starting to appreciate that.
(mother, works full-time)
Several parents talked about the fact that their children became bored with after-school care, just as the children did. One parent raised the issue that the service was often aimed at younger children, and that there were very few things for older children to do.
Many parents talked about trying to ensure that children did not have to attend after-school care five nights a week, despite being generally happy with the care provided.
I think the staff are quite responsive to the children and care about them. There is not a high turn-over of staff so the kids get to know them. They're usually are primary trained teachers, so they have quite a good rapport with the children. And they have made friends there, or some of their friends go there as well. But they are a bit sick of going everyday, so when I can, I do try to work around that and pick them up a bit earlier.
(single mother, works full-time)
The transition from primary school with formal after-school care provision, and high school with not after-school care was identified by parents as a stressful period, both for those parents for whom it was imminent and those who were looking back. The use of mobile phones to monitor children was a theme in talking about secondary school aged children.
I used after school care. Obviously that ended once the older one went to high school. He no longer had after school care, and that was a bit of a worry because I knew he was on his bicycle and riding around and not necessarily supervised. So we got in to the habit of ringing each other quite a bit. And I think one of the things that helped me over the last couple of years is mobile phones, because we're able to keep in touch with each other. Not necessarily ringing up and talking to each other, but SMS messages, so little messages to each other. Who's where, when people are coming home. So there's a sense of – you kind of feel you know what's happening.
(mother, works full-time)
Another parent talked about mobile phones when advising other parents how to manage work and family.
It's partly the supervision thing – it's partly that dealing with the "Oh, my God! The train's broken down, what the hell am I going to do about this?" and that sort of stuff/
(mother, works full-time)
I think you've got to make time for your kids, no matter how busy you are at work. You've just got to. You've got to have free time where they can just chat to you. You've got to make yourself approachable so that if they've got any problem, during the day, if they need to contact you – if you've got a mobile number and that sort of stuff – and be able to ring you office – those sorts of things.
(father, temporarily unemployed)
Some researchers have suggested that the use of technology such as the mobile phone can be problematic, with concern about their children's safety leading parents to excessively monitor "children's time use instead of interacting with them more meaningful ways" (Schneider, Waite and Dempsey, 2000; p 11).
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There was a significant minority of parents whose work decisions appeared to be motivated very strongly by a desire to never have their children experience any form of non-family care. For those who did use non-parental care, in general parents and children appeared to believe that after-school care was more likely to meet the needs of younger than older children. Parents and children reflected a general sense that older children wanted to stop going to after school care, often because their peers had stopped going. Some children had clearly become bored with the service provided, having experienced it for up to 7 years. Some children were being cared for by paid sitters in their own homes, while others were going home for several hours of self-care. Several parents expressed concern about the transition between upper primary and secondary school, where they felt children were likely to need supervision. This concern was a factor in these parents' employment decisions.
13. Other Themes
13.1 Parental Relationships
Galinsky focused very little on the issue of the relationships between parents. Spouse employment was not a significant predictor in the models of feelings of stress or success in parenting or having a child with behaviour problems. The issue of sharing child-related responsibilities was raised and reported as a significant predictor of grades parents gave themselves, feelings of success in parenting, and the presence of "behaviour problems" in a child.
The parent data indicated that fathers were a little more inclined than mothers to say that they shared child-related responsibilities equally (55% compared with 47%). When both parents were working, fathers were more likely to say that they shared responsibilities equally than that either parent had most of the responsibility. Equal proportions of mothers indicated that they shared responsibilities, or had most of the responsibility when both parents worked. Both mothers and fathers agreed that where one parent had most of the responsibility, that parent was likely to be the mother. Galinsky used quotes from the qualitative research to suggest that some parents experienced conflict over differences in parenting style that may undermine attempts to share parenting responsibilities.
In this research there were no direct questions about parents' relationships with each other, however, there were several instances when parents talked about issues of work that caused tension. Further work in this area might be useful, particularly as there is a large body of research that considers parental conflict to be one of the strongest determinants of poor outcomes for children (eg. Depner, Leino & Chun, 1992; Vandewater and Lansford, 1998).
Many of the parents indicated that they did not feel that they had enough time for themselves and their partners. This reflects the time use research which suggests that parents take time from themselves and their relationships in order to be able to spend sufficient time with children.
One issue that emerged in a number of interviews as a source of tension between couples was the issue of the relative value attributed to women's work.
I think, and he may dispute this, but I think (my ex-husband) always looked at my working as a bit secondary, as a bit of the traditional thing where, particularly in more recent years where my income was nice to have but not necessary, so it was a bit like something I did to fill in a few days….But I never felt like it was just something that I just dabbled in until it was time to pick the kids up.
(single mother working in professional occupation)
Tension can arise over a lack of appreciation of the greater responsibility for parenting that one parent may take on.
Whenever he baby-sits, he doesn't do what I do. He might baby-sit the boys, but he's not capable of cleaning the house at the same time, and rushing it to borrow videos, and doing this and doing that, they're not capable of doing it, men. And they just take the easy way out I find. And they don't appreciate what you do. It's like, because you've got a part-time job they think you have all this time on your hands and you actually don't.
[mother, works part-time; father, full-time]
Sometimes this tension contributed to a mother deciding to find paid work.
(My partner) would come home and "but you've done nothing all day" and I would say "you would have no idea what I've done", you know, and I used to get really angry. I was getting angrier and angrier and feeling my ego was going down and down, and I was thinking about all the things I could have done with my life and really starting to resent my child. So I looked through the paper, found the job – it looked perfect – and I got it straight away, and yeah, I must say it's not the easiest work in the world, but I'm glad I have it. It's like my break, to go to work.
[mother, works 20 hours]
For this mother, the fact that she worked then gave her additional leverage to request support in the domestic labour.
I'm not resentful towards my boyfriend, because, equally, I suppose he is working more hours, but then again, I can say, I work too, so help around the house and support me. So I get more support.
It also gave her and her partner a point of contact, although the issue of the relative importance of her work was also raised.
So now we're able to talk. He'll ask me about my work, but I think he always thinks his work is more important than my work. But I say to him, "your work is a lot easier than my work, you know why?". And he'll go "Why?". And I'll say "because you're working with bricks and mortar. I'm working with human beings and it's a lot bloody harder, you know. It's more stressful."
Even when a couple worked in the same profession, however, tension was expressed in terms of how each partner's work was valued. Again, this seemed to revolve to some extent around the distribution of domestic chores, and the observation (supported by the children) that the mother was doing most of the household work. But it also related to a perception of whether the husband valued his wife's work, something that was seen to be reflected in who was most likely to take time off to care for a sick child.
I looked at my pay the other day. I have only 20 days sick leave and I've been (in my profession) now for 14 years and that's because I take all the carers' days. If the boys have to go off to hospital or if anything happens it's me.
[mother works full-time]
The mother thought that part of this might be a reflection in her husband of an unconscious belief in the need for the male to be the bread-winner.
A parent who worked full-time and expressed a need for time to do something for themselves, such as exercise, was seen as taking family time for themselves in a way that the other parent did not.
I can understand why he does that. He has a desk job…so he needs to train. He needs to do physical exercise and it gets rid of his stress he says. But he does that about five nights a week. So we don't talk 'til the weekends really, as a family.
[mother works part-time]
Parents who were working at irregular shifts also had issues with lack of time for parental communication. One father considered that his work had contributed to the breakdown of his first marriage.
Sometimes I wouldn't go home for a week because of the hours. The money was good, and everything was good, but the problem was I had to cover up if anybody wasn't there. To cover up a shift, and there is nobody there, so I had to do it. So, all those things contributed to my divorce, and so now, what I am saying, is I just want to do 8 hours and get of out there.
(father works night shift)
Several parents talked about the supportive nature of their relationships, either in terms of the compatibility of their parenting styles or in the support given for work decisions. It is perhaps surprising how few parents, particularly mothers, referred to their partners in describing their work choices. It was more common for mothers to talk about the lack of support that they felt from husbands than to talk about receiving support. For most women, their emotional responses to working seemed to be largely independent of their spouses. Perhaps this suggests a lack of discussion about the issue, and as well as encouraging parents to talk to children about work and family, parents should be encouraged to talk to one another. Those who had found support seemed to have derived great strength from it.
I saw that she wasn't happy in the role of being the household mother and it took some time in convincing her that I was not going to think that she was a terrible person or a terrible mother or letting the family down or anything just to go back to work. In fact it got to the point where I said "I almost demand you go back to work" as much as I dare do that with her. "Because" I said "if you don't, you're going to drive me insane".
[both parents work full-time]
This same father spoke of balancing work and family.
Fortunately (my wife) and I again are very well matched in many ways and that is one. We both seem to feel the same sort of level of need if you like – what we consider to be balance, or not balance, in the family and the amount of time we like to be together with the family.
The idea of having a personal level of balance and a family level is an important point which seems to reflect the earlier observation that many parents, particularly mothers, appeared to be making decision about employment at a very individual level. From the father's earlier response, it would seem that it required some negotiation early in their parenting days to allow this couple to choose work patterns that reflected this sense of balance.
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13.2 Single Parents
The large number of single parents in the sample revealed some of the issues that are particularly pertinent to their circumstances, including the impact that such a change in family structure had on their employment status. Several of the single mothers said that they had never intended to work, but following the marriage breakdown they had needed to. Interestingly, however, there were several single mothers who reported very little income, who still felt that they were making a better choice for their children if they did not work at times when the children would be home. Once again, the strength of a parent's conviction about what is the best way to parent is seen to be a powerful factor in determining labour force participation.
I actually was forced (to work) because their father stopped child maintenance and I actually found in the end that having that part-time work, I originally started off as training, part of the…compulsory work experience type thing – professional placement. So um, I actually found it gave me a lot more perspective on life.
One single parent talked about the complicated decision making process.
I'm lucky I've got a good job and I work in a good place that pays well above your standard teacher's wage and if I was in another job at a state school it might be seen to be not that much worth it. For every dollar I earn they take 2 or 3 more off me. I don't get any healthcare benefits anymore, I don't get any free dental or medical or anything like that. No cheap public transport or anything, so the dollar value for working has to be a lot more than it was. When I first started working full-time it actually turned out that I was financially worse off working full-time than what I would have been to stay part-time and get government benefits.
I actually had the attitude for a long time that I was being punished financially by working full-time, for wanting to be a better person, for what I considered to be a better person because I was doing what I thought would benefit me in the long run – working full-time because I was getting less government benefits in terms of the pension and the family allowance, but also I was losing all the advantages of being a single parent – getting a health card; the one free trip to country Victoria every year; whatever else came with it, right down to the nitty-gritty – I lost it all. Yes there was definitely a changeover point where I thought, "Jesus Christ, they couldn't make this any worse."
Issues of money clearly affected these single parents. One parent whose ex-husband was making no child payments expressed anger at the fact that she had no money to give to the children, and that he had nothing to do with the children. Another talked about not receiving financial support, but appreciating the time that her ex-husband contributed.
The single parents also tended to have a different view of the questions about time spent with children than parents in intact families. For single parents, their time with their children had the additional external constraint that issues of shared parenting bring.
Weekends they go to their father's every Saturday night, so every Saturday evening I get them down to (his house) by 5pm, so the day's over by 4pm (because of the time it takes) getting them organised and taking them down there.
For separated parents, children spend time with each parent separately from the other, so that time spent with the "other" parent leaves each parent without the children.
I miss them a lot when they're not here. And you go from this incredible…chaotic carry on which is totally the way it is all the time, to this silence. Suddenly it's like a vacuum and you walk around going "what will I do?" I've got a lot better at it. I used to be hopeless at it and hate it and not be able to settle to anything or use the time effectively.
It was also noticeable that, whatever other issues may have been raised, many of the parents in this sample had the capacity to work very cooperatively with their ex-partners in terms of changing access arrangements as children's needs changed. Several fathers had changed their work practices since separation, either using flexibility to pick up children from school one or two nights a week, or even cutting back working days. This was acknowledged by mothers as giving them more capacity to meet work commitments without inducing additional stress. The parents who managed to have this level of co-operation would appear to be achieving a level of shared responsibility that they had not had in their married relationships.
One parent noted that there were some advantages of being in a two-parent family, although she observed the gendered use of strategies to reduce the impact of work on family.
May be if you're in an intact marriage, there is that extra flexibility where you can support each other and one can pick the kids up while one's working late or something but very often it still seems to me…I don't know, maybe it's just people I see. Generally, it still seems to me it's the male who's working the more traditional job, and the female who's still working, increasingly working, part-time, and more hours part-time, but still in a job that's perhaps seen as an extra income support, a bit of extra support.
I mean I'd like to be in a married situation and you know, there's like two of us helping to bring her up and making decisions and the damn responsibilities and you're doing the right thing or the wrong thing. You know, someone to help share the burden as such, of bringing up kids.
Another single mother talked about children being able to meet their needs with other adults.
Your children can choose things that they like from adults around them as part of their role and they are then role models. Whether it be a teacher, whether it be their coach, and that's where it's important for me to monitor what their coach is saying.
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Some of the fathers in the sample talked about the importance of their roles, particularly in their sons' lives. One father was concerned that his children would be able to express their feelings.
I know men really struggle in that area and it is not until they get a skin full of beer that it comes out. I would like my boys especially to really feel quite free about trying to speak about their feelings.
[father works full-time from home]
A father with young adult children now, talked about helping at kindergarten and school when they were young.
I used to go up to kindergarten and do the fruit and put out the milk. I think they probably thought I was a paedophile to start with, but they got used to me after a while. Then the people who got used to me at the kindergarten used to think, "Oh, he's okay because he used to work at the kindergarten, so he can come up and do school lunches.
Another father talked about wanting to take a turn at being home with the second child.
Actually me and (my wife), even before (my son) was born decided that (my wife) was going to get a full-time job and I was going to stay at home and look after (my son) because she had already had that chance. But that hasn't happened and it is still slowly coming up to that. She's talking about having another one and I've said, "well, there's definitely no ifs or buts – you are going to get a full-time job, because I'm not going to go out and work and miss out on watching my kids grow up". That's one of the biggest things I really hate when I come home from work. Not being with (my son) for the whole time that I could be.
[father, works full-time]
In contrast with the mothers who felt strongly that they needed to be available to their children when they were young, several fathers talked about having an increasing sense of wanting to be around as children got older.
I used to work 6/7 days a week and (my wife) looked after the kids, but as they got older, you wanted to spend more and more time at home. [How did this come around?] Two things – one, the kids have said it, and I guess the older I've got and the older they've got, I've thought, I just wanted to spend a bit more time with them. Because you're talking with clients and people you work with, and the conversation often is about your kids, and I think it dawns sometimes, and the light goes on – you've got three kids at home too. What are you doing for them or with them? It's what we both want to do.
[father temporarily unemployed]
It just became more of an issue and, as children grow older - certainly before they necessarily turn into a terrifying teenager - but they become more interesting beings, with all of their emotional and intellectual , and the way they can engage with you. And I find that I, increasingly, want to spend more time with (my son).
[single father – non-resident]
One mother who had changed careers because her original career had so little flexibility talked about the fact that having children had given her a legitimate reason to try something different. She had excelled at her first profession, but had not felt passionate about it. In contrast, some fathers talked about feeling that they were not allowed the same flexible approach to their work participation as their female partners were.
Well, (my wife) is in a good career path now, and I've quite happily said, "well, I've worked 20 years and supported you and the family, so you can work the next 20 and I'll go do the carer's role". And she shudders at the thought – absolutely. She thinks I'm teasing.
[father, works full-time]
One father who had taken several years out of paid work to care for his children experienced surprised reactions from others.
People would say "what do you do?" I would say "I look after the kids". "Yes, but what do you do?" Stuff you, that's work. I think the common perception that work has to be paid where you go and do an activity in an office is so removed from family life. Caring for kids is quite demanding.
He thought that it might be easier for women to return after a five-year absence from the workforce because it is more expected of women. "So there was that stereotype working against me".
14. The Process of Making Work and Family Work
Galinsky argued eloquently against using the word "balance" to represent the process whereby parents try to achieve some level of satisfaction about the way that they are working. She argued that "balance" implies an "either/or connection", "assuming that if you give to work you take away from family life". Galinsky preferred the word "navigating" because it refers to "an ongoing process, not an ideal state", which acknowledges the dynamic "interchanges among individual, work, family, and community rather than treating them as separate spheres".
The issue of how to label the process of what it is that parents are doing when they make decisions about employment was raised with parents in this study. Parents were asked how they thought about the process, and whether the word "balancing" captured that process for them. Most of the parents who were interviewed in this study spontaneously talked about balancing work and family. Those who did not still tended to endorse it as the best option. A few mentioned juggling, or managing, and one talked about a jigsaw.
Juggling is just trying to fit everything in and balancing is actually choosing which one you want to actually do.
Balance means different things to different people. I mean, balance to me sort of means, is everyone happy. Is everyone getting what they need? Does it mean that Mum is never home and Dad is never home. Are the kids being cared for? Are they happy? Is this working? That's when you are balanced. It doesn't mean that Mum's working or Dad's working, it basically means, is the house working, at the house level?
It is a balance, but you have to work out the equaliser. It's not perhaps an even balance and it would seldom stay nicely balanced at half/half. You have to work out with your job and with your lifestyle which way to go. It changes with age. At one stage it is right down, then it tips the other way. As you get older, they are more self-sufficient, it changes totally. It doesn't actually balance, it sort of teeters from one point to the other. It changes because of yourself and the family circumstances and what you want out of life.
I tend to think of it as juggling because it's not so discrete that you can put things in balance and separate and try to find an equilibrium. I think juggling because you are always going to have 2 or 3 things up in the air at once that you are dealing with.
Juggling meant working it so that everything got done and you somehow managed to fit it all in. Balancing means you work out what's important and you sometimes let things slide. When I was juggling there was no time for me, and balancing makes sure there is time for me as well.
[How do you know when it's out of balance?]
When life is no fun anymore. When there's more times that you have that are stressful than are nice.
I read an article once and it said that it shouldn't be a balancing act. It was by someone who didn't have kids. It was a researcher who was saying, "you should be able to do it, it shouldn't be that balanced". But it is. It is how much work do you do, and how much family time you do.
Well, it's just what you accept. It's what you accept as being a good balance. Everyone has a different idea I think. In the end it's about - is the family…is everyone happy, is everything well? And am I still working, am I happy in my work?
Well I think of it as juggling, because I always think of the circus clown and a bit of fun and "oops, dropped a ball, who cares, I've got another couple to go around". Try not to make it too serious – so I guess that's why I call it juggling, because I just don't want to get too heavy about it.
I think it's more complicated than that. I just have a sense that if work is the very dominant feature in the living arrangement and how you live on a day-to-day basis, then you don't really have the time to put into a relationship. And it's the relationship stuff that's really important. It might not be 50/50 - it might be 20/80 for some people. But it's at whatever point the relationship feels like it's healthy.
It's like fighting for your rights in that family unit. Trying to position yourself in a way where you're not hurting anyone by your actions, because we're the adults in this. They are just the children. They have no choice. We have a choice, so balance, yeah, it's an OK word.
It means trying to walk this little tightrope or fine line between recreation time for myself, time for my family, and family activities, time for friends and time for faith, to attend church or bible studies, that sort of thing, and then time for earning money. So it is trying to be holistic I guess on what I see as important in life.
I think when you go through life you're trading off. It's more like a kind of trade off and you're always trading off. (My wife's) probably traded off substantial career advancement by having children. How you actually calculate that sum, the value of the children versus the value of the foregone career, I don't know.
Balancing is what it's all about. It's about constantly striving for that balance and it is a tension between one and other things. And most of the time it sort of rolls along reasonably comfortably, but when anything exceptional , such as work becomes very busy or there's sickness or there's school holidays or when the dog gets sick, that's when it gets hard. That's when you really, really have to work at the balance.
I used to try and do a lot of that (balancing), and I think that's where my problem was. Because juggling and balancing was always trying to do the right thing by everything and everyone else. I don't know, I found a sense of peace, where it was, like, no, my priority is my boys. And I'm lucky because I can work hours around what's important to me and at the moment (my son's) settling. (He's) got high school (next year) so I need to be there for my children.
I think balance is a good word. Trying to find the balance. The mental process I'm going through now. Trying to find the balance of my own needs. Of financial needs and the needs of the growing family. With my children and also my husband.
Managing is more a word I use. I don't quite know what the difference is. I guess I see balancing as this either/or, this kind of switch thing. I think it is more integrated, though it invariably does end up more of a balance, because if you come home because the children are sick, then you are not doing the work…But I don't emotionally think of it in that balancing way. I think of it more a sort of collaborative, almost, partnership with work and family I suppose.
I don't think you can always balance some things, because your work needs might outweigh one week the needs of yourself, which also impacts on the kids. But not balancing, no. I think it's a give and take, and a communication thing. Nothing is ideal, and this is what I try to point out to them in life – you'll never coast along without a health problem and without financial problems, social problems, events. And that's not balancing; it's accommodating, understanding…I don't use the word balance because I see balance as being even. Life is not even. You have peaks and troughs.
Balance is probably pretty good. It's more of a jigsaw, and I find that the pieces just luckily fit together. If the pieces don't fit together, you sort it out and change it so that they do. It works fairly well…You might have a jigsaw where you've got 20 pieces, but either of those pieces could go in different spots. It's just a case of jiggling them so they fit.
Consistent with research, for many families in this study, mothers appeared to be more likely to make major changes to work than fathers. For many parents the balance that they were achieving operated at both a personal level and a family level. Despite this double-level of influence, decisions seemed to be being made on an individual level, with one parent making changes that were more likely to have long-term negative consequences for their careers. A few couples indicated that they were involved in more of a partnership of decision-making and action.
(We've been lucky because) we've been able to balance it as well as we have. We just see what goes on in other families and see the poor kids that go to after care before and after school. And both parents off to work all day. They may have little choice and the poor kids have to, so. (In some families) there is only one person working, and I don't know if that's so great either. One parent works all day and they never see that person, and the one person that is home, they see all the time, so we've been lucky – (my wife) works 4 days a week, so she's home one day and I think we manage to achieve a better balance than most families.
(both parents work part-time)
Parents were also asked how they would know whether they had the balance right. Most talked about members of the family feeling stressed and unhappy. Some said they might not notice until there was a critical incident.
I love my work, but my kids come first, my family comes first, so basically I would drop everything. The only problem is that sometimes I might get blinded by my work and not see my problem until it's manifested itself either via an argument that we will end up having over something, or something happens like a bad report.
(father, works full-time)
People start losing it, the children become unhappy, the bills are not paid, people start ringing and saying "Why haven't you done this?" You know it's out of balance when it all starts falling apart…when it's out of balance, it's just like when the washing machine gets out of balance – cachoonk, cachoonk! And shudders to a stop and you think "Oh, god!"
Some talked about listening to their children in deciding what impact their work decisions were having.
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14.2 Listening to the Children
I've often said to them "would you like Mummy to give up work?" Sometimes they'll come back with a one-liner and say "yeah, that would be nice". And I say "Why?", and then they've got no answer…and then they'll say "Oh, no, no Mum. Work, work, work. We need to go on holidays. Oh, Mum, mum, mum, work, work, work." You know, "we need to have this, we need to have that". They're kids, you know. But they are supportive and I don't think it's just the financial thing. They know that Mummy's happy at work as well.
(single mother, works part-time)
The signs (of imbalance) are the experience that the parent has in terms of how they feel about it and they'll know whether they feel comfortable or not straight away pretty much. And listening to the kids about what their experience is. And if they don't verbalise it, you need to ask them how they feel because sometimes they won't tell you straight out necessarily…I think it's really important to acknowledge the feelings they have, because they're as legitimate as your own… It's important that the kid feels that their feelings are acknowledged and that you try and do something about it, because otherwise it's a bit like, "well, you're a non-entity, and you don't matter, and your needs don't matter".
(single mother, works full-time)
[What advice would you give to other parents doing paid work while bringing up children?]
Just make sure you find out what the children want and what they're feeling. I don't think that working long hours as such is damaging for children, but they have to know that they've got a voice in the family. I think that they're much more accepting if they feel that they've been listened to, even if they don't get what they want…I think a lot of parents don't want to give choices to their children and they don't want the children's desires or want to be voiced openly because they might feel guilty that the children aren't getting what they want.
(single mother, works part-time)
The word 'balance' clearly still resonates strongly in Australian families. Families are making judgments about whether what they are doing works or not and these judgments are not based only on beliefs about long-term outcomes. Parents are trying to judge whether children's experiences of living are happy and whether their own experiences make them feel happy and comfortable. It appears that the notion of happiness and enjoyment of life should not be under-rated as a motivation for decisions and actions.
In drawing conclusions from this research, it must be remembered that all the children who were interviewed were aged 8 and over. This research cannot comment on the experiences of families with only younger children. It should also be noted that very few of the parents worked extremely long hours, with only a few parents reporting working more than 50 hours per week.
Having talked to 71 children from 47 families, one of the clearest conclusions to be drawn is that many parents may gain new insights into the way that they are navigating work and family if they talk to their children. Children have opinions about whether the amount of time that parents can spend with them feels like enough, and they have opinions about what they would like to do in the time that parents are available to them. These opinions are not easily predicted by the hours that parents work. It is clear that in this sample of children aged 8 and over, children by and large accepted their parents' work status, but even when judging parents' work hours as "alright', they also expressed a need to have parents available, especially for particular kinds of shared activities. The pattern of responses to the two questions revealed that it was inappropriate and potentially misleading to reduce analysis of the work-family relationship to purely the number of hours worked by parents.
When there is discussion about parental employment and children, it is often assumed that time itself is the key variable – that more time is better, and that parents and children should all want as much time together as possible. This research suggests that children and parents both use the concept of time to refer to much more than either just the quantity of time, or what they do in the time they share. Neither parents nor children report that work has a negative influence on every aspect of family life or parent/child interaction. Very few of the children in our sample reported that they had trouble getting parents to focus on them. Very few reported having to wait for parents because of their work. Very few reported that their parents worked at home in such a way that the children felt they were unavailable to them. Similarly very few parents reported that work interfered with their capacity to pay attention to children, nor did many parents report work as interfering in the home – at least as far as the children were concerned. Both parents and children did talk about other factors that influence the relationship between work and family. For example, some parents talked about needing greater flexibility at work in order to exert more control over the impact that work may have on their capacity to be available to their children.
The way that parents and children talked about work and family in this research is consistent both with models of work and family interaction, and models of parent-child interactions. There are many aspects of a job that impact on how parents feel about working. Galinsky's model emphasizes some of these factors, including job demands, job quality and support at work. Other factors which Galinsky acknowledged but gave less emphasis to, such as how much parents are paid, and what kinds of family friendly initiatives are available within the work place, also appear to be important. All of these aspects of work can affect family functioning and parents' relationships with children.
Within families there are internal and external factors that will have an effect on how work and family impact on each other. Children have different needs that vary with their temperament and developmental stage. Parents differ in their capacities to provide the different kinds of attention and interaction that children need. Some of this difference in capacity comes from individual personality and adjustment, and some from external resources such as financial capacity and social supports. Some comes from differences in parenting skills, which may be enhanced through practice, effort or training. Some parenting roles require continuous quantities of time, and some parenting roles require regular commitments of time. Some parents in the study talked about being "better" at focused activity rather than time spent "dagging around", and vice versa. Work may impact both positively or negatively on parents' internal and external resources, thus affecting their capacity to parent well, but the effect of work will also be mediated by these same internal and external resources. For every parent and every child in each family, the patterns will be slightly different, so there will never be a one-solution-fits-all answer to managing work and family.
The question that needs to be addressed is whether the family is functioning well or not, and there is every indication from most of the families interviewed for this study that families can function well in a wide variety of circumstances. The children who were interviewed revealed themselves to be very adaptable. Some of the parents were having to compromise in terms of their ideals about how they would work and parent, but, even so, most of the parents in this sample were actively pursuing strategies that made their families function well within the constraints that they face. The fact that parents and children can adapt so well to less-than-ideal circumstances is something that is not acknowledged enough by society or within families. Many parents need to be less critical of themselves, and feel less guilty about the way that they are navigating work and family. However, this does not mean that it is not important to attempt to make circumstances easier for families wherever possible. It should also be borne in mind that parents who are not coping well with these challenges are unlikely to volunteer to take part in a study such as this, so this study cannot articulate their needs.
Parents should talk with their children, but it is important to be aware of how the concept of time is used when talking about work and family, both in the public discourse, and in private conversations in families. Children will mean different things when they talk about wanting more time with parents. Some will mean that they need someone to drive them somewhere, some will want to avoid after-school care, some will want to have the opportunity to have friends over, and some will mean that they want to spend more time talking and playing because it is fun. All of these may be legitimate desires and parents will need to decide whether they need to change the way they work in order to deal with them. In general, children in this sample expressed a desire for more family time to do more of the everyday things that they already find enjoyable. A few children who say that they want more time with a parent may mean that they are not happy with their family life. If the latter is true, then work may be one of many variables that is causing this feeling, but it is unlikely to be the only one, and it may not be about the number of hours that parents work. Some of the children in this sample were also coping with significant changes to family structure, and issues of time for these children often related to time spent with separated parents or re-partnered parents.
This research cannot give any answers to questions regarding children's outcomes. Children may not like homework supervision that a parent at home after school provides, but such monitoring and supervision may help them in the long-term. Similarly, an older child may not like having to be at home alone after school, but may gain independence and confidence through the experience. While it cannot comment on outcomes, this research can provide a guide to the kinds of questions that parents should ask themselves, and should ask their children, when evaluating the current state of family functioning. It is notable that all the parents who participated in this research were responding to the issue of how they manage work and family responsibilities in an active way. Many parents had developed strategies to improve the quality of family functioning. Some of these strategies involved changing jobs, cutting back hours, or making use of flexible conditions of employment, while some were related to parenting itself and how life at home is managed.
The fact that there is such a lively discourse about work and family in both the media and the community reflects the fact that parents are aware of these issues. However, this research encourages parents to include children in that conversation. To do this it may be necessary to reframe notions of family and work with "time" as only one of the critical factors that influence quality of family life, rather than using the concept of time as a summary for many factors. By doing this it should be possible to enrich debate, and make it easier for families to find solutions to their particular challenges.
One parent's advice reflected the importance of the societal context in which children of today are being brought up.
It's a normal way to live nowadays. 50 years ago it wasn't, but in the 21st century, women work the same as men and there is no difference. In a family you balance. One partner or the other works, or both work, but women and men are no different. I know several families where the woman is the sole income person. You work out what is normal for yourself, but in most families, both parents have some paid employment and that would be the norm. That's the way life is. It may change in another 50 years. It probably will change. But at the moment, that is the norm. Paid employment is normal.
The responses of children would tend to suggest that they accept this "normality" more easily than their parents do. Again, listening to children may reveal to parents that the ideal of family and parenting that they carry is no longer relevant. What are needed are new ways to debate how to parent while working, rather than continuing to return to a debate about whether to work or not.
The decisions about policy that affect families, and particularly the employment decisions of parents, need to take into account how to allow parents to continue to fulfill their parenting roles while working. This research would suggest that policies should be aimed at improving access to workplace conditions that allow parents to more successfully combine work and parenting responsibilities, such as flexible hours, regular part-time work, job-sharing, career break schemes, and flexible leave arrangements. Parents who use the strategy of working from home after children have gone to sleep, or in time that they can "steal" from leisure time, may be risking negative consequences for themselves, even if such strategies do not have an obvious impact on indicators such as time spent with children. It seems highly likely that the issue of overwork, which has become central to research and discourse about the work/family issue in Europe and America, will become more prominent in Australia in future years too.
Baydar, N., Greek, A., and Gritz, R.M., Young mothers' time spent at work and time spent caring for children. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Vol. 20(1), 1999, 61-84.
Becker, P. E. and Moen, P. Scaling Back: Dual-earner couples' work-family strategies. Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 61, 1999, 995-1007.
Bianchi, S., Maternal employment and time with children: Dramatic change or surprising continuity? Demography, Vol. 37, No 4, 2000, 401-414.
Depner, C. E., Leino, E. V., & Chun, A. Interparental conflict and child adjustment, Family and Conciliation Courts Review, Vol. 30, No 3, 1992, 323-341.
Galinsky. E. Ask the Children: What America's Children Really Think About Working Parents. William Morrow and Co., New York, 1999.
Gold, D., and Andres, D., Developmental comparisons between 10-year old children with employed and non-employed mothers. Child Development, Vol. 49, 1978, 74-84.
NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. The effects of child care on infant-mother attachment security: Results of the NICHD study of early child care, Child Development, Vol. 68, 1997.
Ochiltree, G., and Amato, P., The Child's Eye View of Family Life, AIFS, Melbourne, 1985
Piotrkowski, C. Work and the Family System, Macmillan, New York, 1979
Repetti, R. L, Short-term and long-term processes linking job stressors to father-child interaction, Social Development, Vol 3, 1994, 1-15.
Repetti, R., and Wood, J., The effects of daily stress at work on mothers' interactions with preschoolers. Journal of Family Psychology, 11, 1997, 90-108.
Schneider, B., Waite, L., & Dempsey, N.P. Teenagers in Dual-Career Families. National Council of Family Relations, Vol 45, No 4., 2000.
Vandewater, E. A., and Lansford, J. E., Influences of family structure and parental conflict on children's well-being, Family Relations, Vol 47, 1998, 323-330.
Voydanoff, P., & Donnelly, B. W., Multiple roles and psychological distress: the intersection of the paid worker, spouse, and parent roles with the role of the adult child. Journal of Marriage and the Family, v 61 n 3, 1999, 725-738.
Appendix A: Interview Schedules
We are trying to explore the ways that families are affected by the interactions between the paid work that parents do and family responsibilities. I am going to ask you some questions, but really we will be having a conversation, so you can take the conversation anywhere you think is relevant. I have broad areas that I want to cover, but within those, we can talk about anything.
Firstly, could you describe your household in terms of who lives here, and how they are related to each other. (Partners, children, step-children, etc.)
The first questions are about whether you and your partner do paid work, and what working means to you.
Do you do paid work?
What are your reasons for working?
What hours do you work? Are they your preferred hours? Why/Why not?
For the most part would you say that you enjoy working?
Would you describe your paid work as a job or a career?
[Can skip this set if you are interviewing the partner I think]
Does your partner do paid work?
What are her/his reasons for working?
What hours does she/he work? Are they his/her preferred hours? Why/Why not?
For the most part would you say that she/he enjoys working?
Would she/he describe his/her paid work as a job or a career?
How did you decide who would do paid work in your family? (Explore issues of whether there was conscious thinking about how best to manage both roles, whether partners "take turns", whether it is a decision that is reviewed, etc.)
Have you (or your partner) changed the hours you work or the jobs you do since you've had children? (Explore reasons, effects of different patterns, etc.)
Has the way you think about your work changed since you had children?
How important to your sense of who you are is your paid work?
(maybe skip?) What other aspects of your life are important to your sense of who you are? (parenting/community/etc)
The next area I want to cover is how you go about the typical day when you or your partner or both of you are doing paid work.
[If respondent is doing paid work]
Could you describe a typical morning before you leave home for work?
(Explore how rushed the morning is, who does what tasks, etc.)
Could you describe a typical afternoon/evening after you have come home from work?
[If respondent is not doing paid work]
Could you describe a typical morning at home before your partner is going to work?
Could you describe a typical evening at home after your partner has come home from work?
Now I want to talk about where your children are while you are doing paid work.
Where do your children spend their time when you are at work? (If older and not in childcare or after-school care, ask about past, and then about illness.)
If childcare: How did you choose this kind of childcare? Do you like it? Does your child like it?
What do you do when your child/ren are sick? How do you manage school holidays?
What kinds of things do you look for in making childcare arrangements for your children?
Do you think your children would say the same things are important?
Now I want to talk about the time you spend with your children.
What kinds of everyday things do you do with a child in an average day? Do you eat meals together, read books, watch TV, play sport, do homework, etc.?
What things do you most like doing with your children?
How would you describe this time - is it hurried time or not?
Does this time ever get interrupted by work? (What happens then?)
Do you set aside special time to do things with your children? Do you spend time just "hanging around" together? Is there any difference in how much you or your children enjoy time that is arranged compared with time spent just "hanging around" together?
Does your partner enjoy doing similar things with the children, or different kinds of things? (If different: Why do you think this is?)
How much do you know about your child's daily life, such as who their friends are, what their weekly routine is, what their main interests are at the moment?
How easy or difficult do you find it to focus on your children when you are together?
Do you feel that you have enough time with your children?
Do you feel you have enough time for yourself and/or your partner?
Do you feel like you're doing a good job as a parent most of the time? When do you most feel like this?
Do you ever feel that you're not doing a very good job as a parent? When do you feel like this?
What kinds of things affect the way you feel about what kind of parent you are?
Does work have an impact on how you feel about the way you are parenting? Does it have a positive impact, a negative impact or both?
Now I want to talk about what your children know about your work.
Do you talk about your work with your children? (good and bad)
What do you think your children think you do at work? Is it important that your children know what you do? Why/Why not?
What reasons would your children give for your working?
Do you think that your children think that you like work? Does it matter that they think that?
What would you like them to know about your work and why you do it?
Do you bring work home with you? How often, and when do you do it?
Do your children ever say anything about you working at home? What kinds of things?
Do you have rules (either stated or unstated) for keeping work out of home hours or home out of work hours? What are they? How well do they work? What happens if you don't stick to them?
Do you travel much because of work? What do you think your children think of this?
Do your children have to wait for you because of your work commitments? (What do you say to them? What do they say to you?)
Do you ever get distracted thinking about work while you're at home? How often does this happen? Does this ever happen when you are doing things with the children? Do you think they notice? Does it matter?
Do you think your children know when you have had a bad day at work? (If yes, What makes you think they know? If no, why wouldn't they know ?)
What do you do if you have had a bad day at work and come home grumpy?
Do you think your children know when you have had a good day at work?
Now I want to talk about the way that work and family affect each other.
In general, do you think parents' working has any impact on children?
What impact do you think your (or in the case of respondent not working for pay - partner's) working for pay has on your children?
What impact does being a parent have on your paid work? [more/less energy, good/bad mood, new perspective, etc. ]
Some people talk about "balancing" their work and family lives. What does this mean to you? Do you think of your work and family lives in this way, or do you think of the relationship between work and family roles in a different way? (If unsure of point of question prompt with other ways people have of representing work/family relationship - e.g."juggling".)
What aspects of your job make it easer or harder for you to manage the potential spillovers between work and family? (Note: spillovers can go both ways) What aspects of your family make it easier or harder to manage the potential spillovers between work and family? Do you have particular strategies that you use? What are they? Where did they come from?
Did your parents work for pay?
Do you remember how you felt about this at the time?
How do you feel about it in retrospect?
Have your own experiences influenced your decisions about working?
Do you feel that you are bringing up your children in the way that you would like to, or are there circumstances that restrict you?
Does working affect your capacity to be the kind of parent you would like to be?
Children often think in terms of their parents "being there" for them. What do you think this means to children? What does it mean to you? Do you think that being a working parent has an impact on "being there" for children? Does it for you?
Have your children gained or missed anything because of you working? (What have they gained/missed?)
Do you think that you miss/have missed anything in your children's lives because you work? What about your partner?
If your family had all the money it would ever need, would you want to change anything about your work? (For instance, stop working, or change your hours, change jobs/careers?)
What do you think your kids would say if asked this question?
(for parents of older children)
What do you think your children's fondest memories of this time of their lives will be when they are older and looking back?
If your children were granted one wish to change the way that your work affects their lives, what would that wish be?
What advice would you give to other parents doing paid work while bringing up children?
What do you wish someone had told you before you became a working parent?
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[N.B. Throughout the interview, try to differentiate between parents, particularly where one parent is working and one is not.]
We are interested in finding out what children think about their parents working and how it affects your family's life. I am going to ask you some questions, but you don't have to just answer the questions. The questions are a guide to the sorts of things I want to be sure we talk about, but we can talk about anything that comes to mind as we go along. If you don't understand anything I say, just tell me and I'll explain it a different way. Some of the things we are talking about might be things you've never thought about. You can tell me that you've haven't thought about something before, but you might like to think about it as we go along. Remember that if you don't want to answer a question, just tell me that you don't want to answer it and I'll go on to the next question. We can stop talking any time you want to. It's up to you.
To start, could you describe your family for me? Who lives with you in this house?
Now I'd like to talk about what you do most days.
What do you do most days?
Could you describe getting ready in the morning to go to school? Is it a very busy time? What do your parents do? What do you have to do yourself?
What about getting home? What do you after you get home from school?
What things do you do with your parents and/or brothers & sisters most days? For example, eating meals together, reading books, watching TV, discussing your day, etc.
How much responsibility do you have for taking care of yourself? Do you think you have too much, too little or the right amount of responsibility? What jobs do you do around the house? Do you think you would have more or less responsibility if your parents worked less?
Now I'd like to talk about your parents and whether they work
Do your parents have jobs they are paid to do? (What are they?) (Follow up references to other kinds of work and other work patterns. If the child is old enough ask for comparisons, etc.)
What do they actually do at work each day? (CiF)
Do they talk about their work? How much? What kinds of things do they tell you? (good and bad)
Do they like working?
Are there things that they don't like about working?
Have you ever been to your parents' workplaces? What did you think about it?
What do your parents do straight after they get home from work?
Do you think your mother/your father works too much, too little or about the right amount of time? What makes you think that?
Now I'd like to know about any times when someone other than your parents takes care of you.
Does someone other than one of your parents take care of you when your parents are working?
What do you think about it?
What is the person who cares for you like?
What should child care be like? What should people who take care of children be like?
Do you spend time alone at home when your parents are working? What do you think of this?
What happens when you are sick? What do you do in school holidays?
Now I'd like to talk about the times you spend with your parents.
What kinds of things do you usually do with you mum?
What is the time spent with your mum usually like? (prompt: rushed, relaxed?)
Do you think your mother spends enough time with you or do you wish she spent more time or less time with you? (CiF)
What kinds of things do you usually do with your dad?
What is the time spent with your dad usually like? (prompt: rushed, relaxed?)
Do you think your father spends enough time with you or do you wish he spent more time or less time with you? (CiF)
(If not enough time: Why doesn't she/he spend more time with you? If she/he did spend more time with you what would you like to do with her/him? CiF)
What are your favourite times spent with your family? (Are these planned times or do they just happen?)
Do you like just "hanging around" with your family? Do you do this often?
(for older children) Some kids talk about their parents "being there" for them. What does this mean to you? Do you think that whether your parent works or not makes a difference to whether they are "there for you"?
When you need to talk to your parents or want to tell them about something, is it easy to get their attention? Do they listen to you?
Do they talk to you much? (CiF)
Can you count on your parents for help when you need it? [for example when you're sick, or are worried about something.]
Do you ever spend time waiting for your parents? Why does this happen? [Follow up work if it is a reason.] How do you feel when this happens?
Is your mum/dad interested in the things you do? (CiF)
How much do your parents know about your life? What kinds of things do they know? (prompt with: do they know who your friends are, what you do each day at school, what your hobbies are, and things like that?) If they were not working, do you think it would change what they know about your life? How?
Do your parents help out at your school or help with your sports clubs or other hobbies?
Do you parents come to special events like sports days, parent-teacher interviews, school concerts, etc? Do you think that their work ever stops them from coming to these kinds of events? (Follow up: How do you feel about this?)
Thinking about your mum and all the things she does in her life, what do you think she is best at? (CiF) What is she not very good at?
Thinking about your dad and all the things he does in his life, what do you think he is best at? (CiF) What is he not very good at?
Now I'd like to talk about the ways that parents' work can sometimes affect children's lives, and hear about your experiences.
Can you tell what kind of day your parents have had at work when they get home? How can you tell?
What do you do if you think your parents have had a bad day?
What do you do if you think your parents have had a good day?
Do you do things differently depending on whether they have had a good or a bad day?
Do you think that your parents are tired by their work, or do you think it gives them lots of energy?
Do your parents bring their work home very often?
Do they often work at home when you are around? How do you feel when this happens? What do you do if you need them while they're working?
Do you parents think about work at home? How can you tell? How often do they do this? What is it like when they do this? What do you do?
Do your parents have to travel away from home because of their work? How do you feel about this?
What kinds of things happen in your life because your parents work? Have you learned or gained anything from having parents who work? Is there anything you haven't got or can't do because your parents work?
[for younger children maybe] What is the best thing/worst thing about having a working mother/father?
Do you think your parents miss/have missed out on things in your life because they are working?
Do you have friends whose parents do/don't [opposite of own circumstances] work? What is it like for them? Are things very different for them?
Do you think it's good or bad for kids that their parents work?
Lastly, I'd like you to use your imagination and think of the ways that things could be different, and also think about being an adult.
If your family had all the money it would ever need, would you want to change anything about how your parents work? (For instance, they could stop working, or work more or less hours, or change jobs/careers?)
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Do you think you'll have a family one day?
Do you think you will work when you have children?
[older children?]What do you remember most about your life at the moment when you look back to when you were younger?
Appendix B: Participant Questionnaire
Work and Family - Participant Questionnaire
Thank you for helping us with this research. Could you please tell us a few things about yourself and your household in case they were not covered in the interview.
- What is your first name?
- Your age?
- Your gender? Male Female
- Your country of birth?
- Other (please specify)
- Could you list the children living in this household with you.
Name Age If at school:
Your relationship with this child?
- What is the highest level of education you have completed?
(including current level if studying)
- Year 9 or below
- Year 10
- Year 11
- Year 12
- Certificate (business college/TAFE)
- Diploma (TAFE, CAE, college)
- Degree (bachelor)
- Post-graduate (post-grad diploma, Masters, PhD)
- Other (please specify)
- What is your main occupation?
[OR previous occupation if not working or retired]
- What is your labour force status?
- In full-time paid work
- In part-time paid work. How many hours?
- On leave from paid work
- Not working at all
- How well would you say your family is managing financially these days?
Would you say you are:
- living comfortably
- doing alright
- just about getting by
- finding it quite difficult
- finding it very difficult
- Could you give us an estimate of your total household income before tax?
- Negative income
- Nil income
- $1 - 6,239 per year
- $6,240 - 15,599 per year
- $15,600 - 25,999 per year
- $26,000 - 36,399 per year
- $36,400 - 41,599 per year
- $41,600 - 51,999 per year
- $52,000 - 77,999 per year
- over $78,000 per year
If you live with a partner who did not take part in the research could you please tell us a little about him/her?
- What is his/her labour force status?
- In full-time paid work
- In part-time paid work
How many hours?
- On leave from paid work
- Not working at all
- What is the highest level of education he/she has completed?
(including current level if studying)
- Year 9 or below
- Year 10
- Year 11
- Year 12
- Certificate (business college/TAFE)
- Diploma (TAFE, CAE, college)
- Degree (bachelor)
- Post-graduate (post-grad diploma, Masters, PhD)
- Other (please specify)
- What is his/her main occupation?
[OR previous occupation if not working or retired]