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What children think about working parents

Ask the Children is the first book to ask children what they really think of working parents. Their answers are illuminating, not frightening, and help us reframe the debate about work and family, providing a basis for understanding our past and a point of departure for our future.

Remarkable insights
Based on a nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 children 8 through 18 years old, author Ellen Galinsky explores the key issues of work and family life today with children from all kinds of backgrounds – children in dual-earner families, single parent employed families and traditional families. In addition, she conducted a representative survey of more than 600 employed mothers and employed fathers with children birth through 18 as well as in-depth interviews with close to 175 children and parents in 15 states.

The children surveyed provided hundreds of remarkable insights and findings about work and family life in America, many of them good news for working parents. However, some of the findings really stand out. Included among these important and surprising findings are:

Wish list
More time is not on the top of children’s wish list for employed parents.

Children were asked if they were granted one wish to change the way their mother’s/their father’s work affect their life, what would that wish be.

Ask the Children Employed parents were also asked to guess what their children’s wish would be. Most employed parents (56%) guessed their children would want more time with them.

Surprisingly, most children didn’t wish for more time. Most children wish their parents would be less stressed and less tired by work.

34% of children make this wish for their mothers and 27.5% make this wish for their fathers.

Surprisingly, only 2% of employed parents guess that their children would wish that they be less stressed and tired.

In contrast, only 10% of children wish that their mothers would spend more time with them and 15.5% say the same thing about their fathers.

Enough time
A majority of children think they have enough time with their employed parents

67%, of children ages 8 through 18 feel they have enough time with their employed mothers and 60% say they have enough time with their employed fathers.

It is older children more than younger children who don’t feel they have enough time with their parents and they especially feel they don’t have enough time with their fathers.

WOH and SAH mom perceptions
Children with employed mothers and those with mothers at home do NOT differ on whether they feel they have too little time with their mothers.

It is the relationship mothers establishes with her children that matters, not whether or not she works.

Throughout the study, Galinsky found that having a working mother is never once predictive of how children assess their mothers’ parenting skills.

In fact, children don’t seem to be questioning whether or not their mothers work

Out of 265 written responses from children in response to the question, what would you like to tell the working parents of America, only 5 children (2%) say “stay home.”

However, many children worry about their parents, mainly because they are stressed.

32% of children say they worry about their parents “very often” or “often.” When the “sometimes” response is added, the percentage goes up to 65%.

Children say they worry because they care, but also because their parents are very stressed.

Children don’t think parents like their work as much as parents say they do

41% of children say their fathers like their work a lot. By comparison 60% of fathers with children 8 through 18 say they like their work a lot.

42% of children think their mothers like their work a lot compared with 69% of mothers.

That is not only because many parents tend to tell their children bad things that happened to them at work but also because they do not explain the reasons – other than financial – why they work.

Children learn more about the world of work from their mothers than from their fathers

Parenting skills
Most parents are doing well, according to their kids.

While the public in recent polls has expressed a great deal of concern about the quality of parenting children receive, most children assess their parents positively on 12 different parent skills. About 10% to 15% of parents are typically seen as not doing so well.

There are some areas of concern. Less than one third of parents are seen very positively by teenagers when it comes to controlling their tempers when their child does something that upsets them. Perhaps this is an indication that the stress at work is spilling over into family life.

About one third of teenagers also feel that their parents don’t really know what is going on in their child’s life – an issue that is also cause for concern.

Parents feel more successful at home than at work

44% of working parents feel “very” successful as a parent while only 32% feel “very” successful at work. Clearly this and other findings from the study indicates that although parents are working long hours, most are also doing all they can to be with their children and this contributes to their feelings of success as a parent. “Most employed parents are not drive-by parents.”

Quality of work and family life
Work can spill over into family life in negative ways

46% of employed parents report negative spillover from work to home saying that over the past three months, he or she often, very often or sometimes has not had the energy to do things with his or her child because of the job.

Parents who have reasonable demands, good quality jobs (including job autonomy), jobs that enable them to focus on their work, and the support of co-workers and supervisors are likely to be energized by work.

These parents are more likely to have better interaction with their children, affecting their children’s development in positive ways.

These parents are also more likely to have parenting energize them at work.

71% of employed parents say that they have been in a good mood at work because of their children. While we tend to focus on the harm that negative experiences can have, when work is positive it affects parents’ mood and energy, their interaction with their children and even their children’s development.

The bottom line is that good experiences at work flow into good experiences at home, which pay dividends back at work.

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