Academic journal article The Future of Children

Families with School-Age Children

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Families with School-Age Children

Article excerpt

More than half of all children under age eighteen now live in households with two employed parents or an employed single parent. (1) For many of these households, parenting has grown increasingly complicated, with the structure and demands of the workplace often colliding with parents' basic responsibilities for supervision and involvement in their children's lives. The collision is most noticeable where the relatively rigid schedules governing when and where work is to be done conflict not only with equally rigid school schedules but also with children's needs, both predictable and unpredictable. Parents whose work schedules do not coincide with their school-age children's schedules must arrange for the predictable--transporting their children to and from school and finding care for them during the gap between the end of the school day and the end of the workday and during school vacations. Parents must also be prepared for the unpredictable--an emergency such as a child's sudden illness that requires them either to leave work to care for the child or to find someone quickly who can provide that care.

This article examines the scheduling challenges working families with school-age children face and the ways flexibility at school and at parents' workplaces might help parents meet the needs of their children and fulfill their responsibilities to their employer. Seeing little likelihood that changes in school schedules can provide sufficient flexibility to aid parents, we argue not only that the necessary flexibility is best offered in the parents' workplaces but that a supportive workplace culture needs to be developed for flexibility practices to reach their full potential. We conclude by identifying several employers with well-designed flexibility practices that genuinely serve both working parents and their employers.

Parent Roles in Their Children's Lives: Supervision and Involvement

Full-time jobs that require rigid start and end times or that entail early morning and evening meetings or overnight travel can encroach on the time available to parents to supervise and be involved in their children's lives. (2) Parents must either provide child care for the times when they cannot be present or alter their work schedules so they can be at home at the same time their school-age children are. For those in low-paying jobs, the added constraint of limited resources makes child-care arrangements even more complicated and problematic. (3)

Supervision, a primary responsibility of parenting, includes those activities parents undertake to ensure that their children's basic physical and safety needs are met. Being late to pick up a child at school, for example, can have grave safety consequences, especially if the school closes and no adults are on the premises. The degree of supervision to keep school-age children safe varies depending on the chronological age of the child and the location of the school and home. At a minimum, parents have to ensure that someone is available to take care of children's meals and transportation needs before and after the school day. Some older children can manage these responsibilities on their own, but someone should still check on their whereabouts before and after school, on how they spend their weekends and with whom, and on how they are handling their nutritional needs.

The structure of the workplace constrains the ability of working parents to attend to these basic supervisory responsibilities. (4) For those in autonomous jobs, communicating with children during the day is not a problem; however, in many kinds of jobs, employees are prohibited from making personal calls or their communications are monitored. Moreover, the nature of some jobs severely curtails opportunities to attend to the basic needs of children, such as leaving work early to take a child to a pediatric appointment. (5)

Involvement represents those parental activities that directly relate to children's academic, social, and emotional well-being. …

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