National Network for Child Care's Connections
Maureen Perry-Jenkins, Ph.D.
Human Development and Family Studies
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
If I asked you what the most important aspect of your life was,
what would you say? When this question is asked as part of the
General Social Survey conducted annually in the United States,
the most popular answer for both women and men is, “my family.”
The second most common answer is “my work.” It is troubling,
however, that the two most important aspects of Americans' lives
are often the two arenas that are in the most direct conflict.
In 1991, 58% of women with children under the age of six were
employed. Because the dual-earner lifestyle is becoming the norm
in the United States, it is important to examine how work and
family life are related (Ahlburg & DeVita, 1992).
A great deal of research has addressed the issue of how work affects
family life. One consistent finding is that stress, anxiety, and
fatigue experienced at work is linked to more negative marital
interactions, parent-child interactions, and personal well-being
(Repetti, 1989; Crouter, Perry-Jenkins, Huston, & Crawford,
1989; Spitze, 1988). It appears, however, that men and women tend
to cope with their work stress in different ways when they come
home. Men more often withdraw from interactions at home by reading
the paper, watching TV, or making themselves unavailable for a
certain period of time. In contrast, women remain involved in
family activities and interactions, but often report increased
negativity in their interactions, especially when they first arrive
home. This is hardly surprising since usually upon returning home
from work, women contend with children who want attention, get
dinner on the table, and try to connect with a husband who, if
he has had a tough day, wants to be disconnected. So, what are
the implications of these findings for working families?
First, it is critical to be aware that your daily experiences
on the job do have an effect on you and your family. Many workers
believe they can separate their work and family experiences, as
if one has little or no effect on the other. Contrary to this
common belief, however, research suggests that we are not very
good at separating these two worlds. It is important to acknowledge
that the shift from one role to another takes a little time. Some
ways to ease the transition from work to family life include:
– Give yourself some “down time” between the shift from
being “on the job” to being “home.” Even 15
minutes helps. Put off starting dinner right away, have a snack
to hold everyone over until dinner. Sit on the couch together
and read a short book, or listen to a favorite tape together.
Whatever ritual you establish, it will help to mark the end of
the work day and the beginning of the family evening.
– Change your clothes. Sometimes the act of changing clothes and
getting comfortable helps to mark the end of one part of the day
and the beginning of another.
– Talk to your spouse about ways to give you both the chance to
unwind while giving the children the attention they need. For
some parents, having each partner take a 15-minute “shift”
with the kids while the other has some alone time can help. Obviously,
in single-parent families this strategy would not apply. Some
single mothers have worked out creative ways to share meals and
“time-out” with other single-mothers or with extended
kin or friends.
This research also holds implications for how providers and parents
interact at the end of their work days. Usually parents come to
pick up their children on their way home from work. If they have
experienced a particularly stressful day, or if their job is generally
stressful, the interaction between the parent and child care provider
may be quick and frustrating. The provider may be ready to fill
the parent in on their child's day while the parent seems distracted
or uninterested. At these times it is important to remember that
it is often difficult for parents to make the quick shift from
focusing on work to focusing on their child's day. There are a
few strategies that might help make this short interaction between
parent and care provider a more positive experience.
– Jot down a note for the parent about the child's day. List highlights
and/or concerns that they can refer to later that night when they
may be more focused. You can then discuss these issues the next
– Ask them about their work day or something else about which
you may know. You might get an immediate clue about how “ready”
they are to talk about other things.
– Acknowledge that it is often hard to make the shift from the
world of work to the world of family life. After a particularly
stressful day for the working parent and the provider, sometimes
both need a pat on the back. A simple show of support works wonders.
– Help the parent and child have a departure that is as smooth
and as reassuring as possible.
Ahlburg, D.A., & DeVita, C.J. (1992). New realities of
the American family. *Population Bulletin*, 47(2), Washington,
DC: Population Reference Bureau, Inc.
Crouter, A.C., Perry-Jenkins, M., Huston, T.L., & Crawford,
D.W. (1989). The influence of work-induced psychological states
on behavior at home. *Basic and Applied Social Psychology*, 10,
Repetti, R.L. (1989). The effects of daily workload on subsequent
behavior during marital interaction: The roles of social withdrawal
and spouse support. *Journal of Personality and Social Psychology*,
Spitze, G. (1988). Women's employment and family relations: A
review. *Journal of Marriage and the Family*, 50, 595-618.
National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the
National Extension Service
Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Permission
is granted to reproduce
these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only
(not for profit beyond the cost of
reproduction) provided that the author and Network receive acknowledgment
and this notice is
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child
Care – NNCC. Perry-Jenkins, M. (1994). All in a day's work. In
Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *Child care center connections*, 3(5),
pp. 4-5. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative
FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Internet
Level 3 – National Peer Review
DOCUMENT SIZE:: 19K or 4 pages
ENTRY DATE:: March 1996
Contact Us | Non-discrimination Statement and Information Disclosures | © Iowa State University, 2002 | Last update: 8/3/06