Not many working parents can declare that they have never missed their child’s soccer games or piano recitals due to their careers. It’s common for expectant and new parents to fear that they are irreparably damaging their children because of last-minute schedule adjustments at work or travel to a client location.
But what impact does our job have on the future lives of our children? My colleague Jeff Greenhaus and I studied the connection between work and family life twenty years ago and discovered that work and family life are both friends and foes.
We’re under a moral obligation to take a new look at results on how the emotional lives of children — the invisible stakeholders in work — are influenced by their parents’ jobs, as we are finally beginning to pay greater attention to mental health issues in our society.
The results of our research help to explain what has already been discovered: namely, that children are harmed by their parents being distracted by technology and by stress at work.
What do parents’ careers consist of?
To a large extent, we observed that many features of parents’ jobs are inextricably linked to the child’s behavior issues, which act as reliable markers of mental health. A standard measure in the child development research literature, utilized in other research, has not been used in our investigation.
So far, there hasn’t been enough study on the particular impacts of parents’ job experiences (not time spent at work) on children’s mental health. Work, then, has much more serious health implications through these additional methods. Take a look at some of the things we discovered.
Family comes first, regardless of the amount of time the parents spend working. We discovered that children were better off when their parents focused on work as a source of motivation, encouragement, challenge, and enjoyment, even if the time spent was not considered. And, as you might expect, we found that children were better off when their parents could be around to serve as role models.
The impact from working mothers and fathers
Fathers’ involvement in their children’s work lives, whether or whether they work long hours, raises the likelihood of behavioral issues in children. Also, the presence of a father in his children’s daily lives, or his availability, was connected to children exhibiting behavioral and emotional issues. The fewer behavior issues the children exhibited, regardless of the duration of their father’s employment, the better.
For women, however, the concept of power and discretion at work was connected to children who were psychologically better. What this means is that our research revealed that children are more likely to succeed if their moms have the authority and power to direct what happens to them when they are working. Children whose moms spend time relaxing and taking care of themselves have better results.
Mothers who spend most of their time at home with their non-work time don’t just have the choice of being at home vs working, but also have to deal with how they choose to spend their non-work time. Staying nearby children enables mothers to care for themselves as well as their children. Children were more likely to be plagued by behavioral issues to the amount that moms participated in housework.
Our research shows that the traditional roles of dads and mothers are clearly shifting. It is, nevertheless, the fact that women still shoulder the greater load of emotional obligations associated with becoming a parent.
The study revealed that the extra labor of housework doesn’t support parents’ abilities to care for their children and that when women devote to caring for themselves, their capacities to care for their children are enhanced. When men are emotionally present with their children, and their feeling of competence and well-being are improved by their work, they are better equipped to offer children good experiences.
It is also encouraging to know that parents may, to some degree, influence the characteristics of their working life. Although time spent working and providing child care may be difficult to change due to the current economic and industry conditions, we were astonished to find that it had no impact on children’s mental health.
If our jobs’ impact on our children’s mental health is something we want to combat, we should make every effort to maintain our employment, while simultaneously dedicating time to spend with our children. Quality time is very genuine.