The following is excerpted from an online article posted by MedicalXpress.
Family mealtimes are important for parents and children as a space to communicate, socialize, and build attachment relationships. But it can be difficult for busy parents to balance family and work life. A new study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign explores how parents’ job stress influences their attendance at family mealtimes, and in turn, children’s socioemotional development.
“We all struggle to maintain the balance between work life and family life. But this might be especially challenging for parents, who are engaging in childcare after a busy and stressful day at work,” said lead author Sehyun Ju, doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at U. of I.
The study included data from more than 1,400 dual-earner families, consisting of heterosexual married couples with children, in a nationally representative survey that traced children’s development across family, home, child care, and school environments from 9 months to kindergarten. The researchers focused on the interplay of child characteristics, family mealtimes, and parents’ job and financial dissatisfaction.
“We found that children of parents who expressed higher work-related stress when the children were 2 years old had lower socioemotional competency at age 4 to 5, measured by lower positive and higher negative social behaviors,” Ju explained.
The findings speak to the pervasiveness of traditional gender roles, added Karen Kramer, associate professor in HDFS and co-author on the study. “Mothers are considered primary caregivers, and they are expected to be present and feed their children no matter what. The study showed they didn’t adjust their mealtime frequencies in response to job dissatisfaction as fathers did.”
“We have to acknowledge the challenges that families face in creating consistent routines. It’s not just an outcome of individual influences. Outside factors, such as parents’ work environment and financial situation can affect their interactions, mealtimes, and child development. For example, dinner time for young kids is typically around five or six o’clock, but the expectation that parents are home early in the day doesn’t align with being an ideal worker.”
The research was published in the Journal of Family Psychology.