The second of three excerpts. The next one -- which runs May 12 -- discusses proposals for easing the strains of balancing home
and work responsibilities. For the first, see "Rigid Gender Roles Thwart Efforts to Balance
Home and Career."
Researchers have historically paid considerable attention to the impact that employment -- the simple fact of working outside the home -- has
on mothers and their children. Relatively few studies address how the quality of parents' work lives influences their capacity to care for
children and the children's health and development. Our study of 861 business professionals looked closely at this critical issue.
Many parents today are arranging their work and family roles in original ways. We won't know the long-term consequences of such arrangements
until their children grow up. We can, however, assess the impact of career and work experiences on the care that children receive currently
and on their health and development. We can then use what we learn to guide personal action and corporate and social policy.
Children are stakeholders at work. Our study shows that they benefit when mom and dad view being a parent as important. They suffer when their
parents value career over family responsibilities. One surprising result of our study is that business professionals' parental performance
suffers among those who earn the most. With all that money can buy for children, a high income still does not overcome a serious problem kids
face when their parents (especially their fathers) are so psychologically involved in work that they cannot attend well to the demands of
being a parent.
Parents reading this chapter may find some of our observations disconcerting. Some will surely recognize the negative effects we uncover in
their own families. However, we also show ways in which work is an ally of the family and how the resources work provides can help parents and
WORK'S EFFECTS ON CHILDREN. The home role and the work role each require our full attention at times. It is critical that working parents
develop the mental agility and versatility to switch adeptly between roles. Parents also have to be physically available to their children.
That means being there to help with homework, get our children to school, to the doctor, and to others to whom we entrust their well-being.
That sort of availability depends in part on the number of hours our work requires and how much discretion we have to arrange our work
Work and career also provide resources for our family lives. The most obvious is economic, but there are also social resources. The supportive
relationships we develop at work often substitute for what people once got from their neighborhoods or communities -- information on childcare
resources or pediatricians.
CAREER VALUES. The aspirations women and men have for their careers affect their perceptions of how well their children are cared for
differently. Take, for instance, aspirations to hierarchical advancement and wealth. Mothers who want money and power from their careers feel
that their children receive higher-quality care than do mothers who have lower career aspirations and who care less about wealth.
Yet it is the opposite for fathers: the less a father aspires to hierarchical advancement, the better he feels about his performance as a
parent. And the lower the value a father places on wealth, the better he feels about the care his children receive.
We believe that a mother's high career aspirations result in high levels of self-esteem, which in turn enhances her capacity to care for her
children and to arrange for effective childcare. When a father has relatively low career aspirations, he's more available to his children.This
makes him a more effective parent.
We found that children's health, behavior, and school performance are enhanced when their mothers or fathers say that family is very important
in how they judge the success of their lives. School performance is relatively good among children whose parents place higher value on a
career that offers flexibility, time for self, and time for family. And children's general health is higher if their parents place relatively
high value on the intrinsic rewards of work: challenge, creativity, and enjoyment.
Children of career-focused parents are more likely to experience behavior problems than those whose parents are family-focused. These same
children are also likely to be doing less well in school.
WORK EXPERIENCES. Values and priorities about career and family are not all that determine how we feel about our parenting and our children's
health and development. Certain aspects of our experiences at work also make a difference. Some make perfect sense; others may be surprising
at first. Our business professionals who see themselves performing well as parents share several characteristics:
-- good job performance
-- a high level of job satisfaction
-- an employer that is supportive of family needs
-- self-employment or working in a family business
-- a relatively low annual income
Let's look at the bottom of the list: income. Why does high income produce perceptions of poor parental performance? Could it be that people
who earn very high incomes know deep down that they are neglecting their responsibilities as parents in favor of their work obligations, in
essence trading family for career? With their feet held to the fire, perhaps these parents might say something along these lines: "How else
could I earn all that money if I didn't have to make some sacrifices at home, like working too many hours or being too involved in my work?"
High income doesn't result in poor parental performance. What is really operating here is that intense psychological involvement in career
leads to the perception of lower parental performance.
Unlike high income, doing a good job and being satisfied with work contribute to feeling that we perform well as parents. Further, being in a
work environment that supports family needs -- and, in the case of self-employment, allows for high levels of autonomy --contributes to our
sense that we have the support of others and the requisite flexibility to be good parents.
Stewart D. Friedman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is currently director of the Ford Motor Co.'s Leadership
Development Center in Dearborn, Mich.,
while on leave from his faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. He has also been an advisor on work and family to
Vice-President Al Gore. Jeffrey H. Greenhaus (email@example.com) is professor of management and
William A. Mackie Professor of Commerce and
Engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He is the author or co-author of three books.
The authors' research on work and family has been widely profiled in the media and academic journals.
Reprinted and excerpted with permission of Oxford University Press
Copyright 2000 by Oxford University Press, Inc.
Published by Oxford University Press, Inc.
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