KIDS THINK ABOUT WORKING PARENTS
you ask what do you think your children would most like to change
about the way your work affects their lives?
Do you think it’s the amount of time you spend with your children
or what you actually do together that matters most to them?
Would you say that kids rate working or non-working mothers higher?
In a landmark study, Ellen Galinsky, Executive Editor of Work &
Family Life and President of the Families and Work Institute,
asked a nationally representative sample of 1000 children, ages 8
through 18, these and many other questions. Their answers are both
surprising and reassuring, and were published in her book, Ask
the Children (William Morrow).
Some of the findings from Ask the Children Others will alert
us to areas we may want to change both in the way we approach our
work and in the way we interact with our children.
What do kids want the most from working parents?
While more than half of employed parents guess that their children
want more time with them, in fact, most children did not put this
on top of their list. Instead, kids wished that their parents would
be less stressed and less tired from work. And it is older, more than
younger, children who feel they don’t have enough time with
their parents, and especially feel they have too little time with
What kind of time matters to children? The amount of time parents
spend with them does make a difference to children. For example, kids
who spend a larger amount of time with their mothers said they feel
more important and loved than those who spend less time with their
mothers. The content and the quality of their time together are also
important. “The activities they engage in, whether or not the
time they have together is frenetic or calm, and whether they believe
their parents are really focusing on them when they are together”
are also key factors.
Data from this study show clearly that we have been engaging in the
wrong debate. It is not either quality time or quantity of time. Both
are vital. Children feel more positive about parents who are involved
in doing things with them. And parents and children value the time
they spend together, whether it’s just eating dinner, being
around each other in a non-rushed way, or doing a special activity.
Therefore, Galinsky suggests that we use different language to describe
the time parents and children spend together. Instead of agonizing
over the relative importance of “quality” and “quantity”
time, we should say that the children need “focused” times
and “hang-around” times. The focused times are when kids
are getting a parent’s undivided attention. This may involve
a special event or may simply happen during daily routines. And these
times are not necessarily stress-free. For example, you could be grappling
with a problem situation together.
What about working vs. stay-at-home moms?
These findings, in particular, should go a long way toward reducing
the guilt of working moms. Ask the Children looked for differences
in the ways employed (part-time or full-time) and non-employed mothers
are viewed by their children. Surprisingly, the researchers found
no differences. In fact, “having a working mother” was
never the main factor in how children assessed their mothers’
parenting skills. It is not whether or not moms work; it is the relationship
they establish with their children that matters. As Galinsky observes,
“An at-home mother is not automatically an attentive mother,
nor is an employed mother necessarily inattentive.”
The study also confirmed and extended the results of earlier research
as to whether working mothers are “good” or “bad”
for children. There is now much more evidence showing that a mother’s
work is not, in itself, the most important variable that influences
children’s positive development. Rather, it is a combination
of other factors including: the mother’s comfort level with
her choice to work, the income her job brings in, the quality of child
care she uses, the resources available from her family and neighborhood,
and the warmth, sensitivity, and responsiveness she shows to her children.
adapted from Work & Family Life Newsletter