Academic journal article Family Relations

Parenting Stress, Dinnertime Rituals, and Child Well-Being in Working-Class Families

Academic journal article Family Relations

Parenting Stress, Dinnertime Rituals, and Child Well-Being in Working-Class Families

Article excerpt

Family rituals and routines are important for enhancing child health and well-being. Fiese et al. (2002) stated that regular rituals and routines contribute to stability and predictability in family life that enhance children's functioning. However, providing consistent, predictable family rituals and routines may be very challenging for the more than 58% of American families with young children in which both parents are employed outside of the home (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011). Fiese et al. pointed to the importance of family rituals as potential buffers of parenting distress. A moderation model holds that family rituals may serve as a protective mechanism for families in the presence of stress. If family rituals work as a moderator, then interventions focused on enhancing rituals would be a critical method to buffer parenting stress on child outcomes.

In this study, the role of family rituals in the understudied population of working-class families is explored. Rituals may be of even greater importance in dual-earner, working-class families because the work-family challenges facing low-wage workers are often significantly more stressful than for higher income workers. For example, working-class employees are more likely to face stressful work conditions involving mandatory overtime, low autonomy, variable work shifts, time-pressured productivity targets, few sick/personal time benefits, and unpaid family leave than their middle-class counterparts (Perry-Jenkins, 2005). Moreover, these work stressors spill over to affect the well-being and stress of working-class workers, creating unique challenges to family life and parenting (Perry-Jenkins, Smith, Goldberg, & Logan, 2011). For example, more than one third of working-class employees work nonstandard shifts or rotating shifts, making it difficult to maintain regular family routines such as family meals and bedtime routines. In addition, mandatory overtime and little job flexibility, characteristics of low-wage work, also affect working parents' ability to maintain consistent family routines. Thus, a significant contribution of this study is its unique focus on working-class parents who face the challenge of managing family life while holding down low-wage and less flexible jobs.

The aim of this investigation is to examine the relationship between parenting stress and children's psychosocial outcomes as children transition to first grade, and to examine whether rituals mitigate the effect of high stress on child functioning.

Parenting Stress and Child Well-Being

Parenting stress has been linked to poorer outcomes in children, as measured by teachers' ratings of behavior problems in the classroom and social competence (Anthony et al., 2005) as well as increased externalizing and internalizing problems (Hart & Kelley, 2006; Rodriguez, 2011). The risk and resilience model supports the notion that risk and protective factors can enhance or undermine children's well-being (Black & Lobo, 2008). Parenting stress is an example of one such risk factor that can have detrimental effects for children's well-being. A family resilience framework extends the notion of resilience to the dynamic interactions of the broader family context and how certain family practices, such as family rituals and routines, can enhance well-being (Walsh, 2003). Based on this framework, this study examines dinnertime rituals as a potential protective factor that may buffer the risk effects of parenting stress.

Nature and Importance of Family Rituals

Fiese (2006) defined family rituals as repeated patterns of behavior that facilitate family life, communicate family values, and augment family identity. Fiese developed a self-report measure, the Family Rituals Questionnaire (Fiese & Kline, 1993), to assess family practices across different settings and dimensions to get a holistic measure of family practices that highlights the routinized practice and the symbolic meaning of family rituals. …

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