Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Time Squeeze: Parental Statuses and Feelings about Time with Children

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Time Squeeze: Parental Statuses and Feelings about Time with Children

Article excerpt

Policy makers, parents, and the public are concerned with perceived declines in parents' time with children. Data from two national surveys (N = 1,159 and N = 827) used in this study show that nearly half of parents report feeling too little time with children. Work hours are strongly related to these feelings, even controlling for time spent with children, and explain why fathers more than mothers feel time strain. For fathers, those whose youngest child is an adolescent feel more strain than similarly situated mothers. Controlling for work hours, single parents are not more likely than married parents to feel that they spend insufficient time with children.

Key Words: gender, paid work, parenting, role strain, time use.

Time with children is a precious commodity to parents, who rate talking with, caring for, taking trips with, and playing games with their children as their four most enjoyable activities-higher than paid work, talking with friends, and many leisure activities (Juster & Stafford, 1985). Parents also see family time as an important experience that produces long-lasting and happy memories for children (Daly, 2001; Shaw, 1992). Moreover, parents may increasingly view spending time with children as necessary for children's proper growth and development; that is, cultural standards for what constitutes "enough" time with children may be very high today (Bianchi, 2000; Daly).

Although research indicates that, on average, parents today spend as much or more time with children as in the past (Bianchi, 2000; Bond, Galinsky, & Swanberg, 1998; Bryant & Zick, 1996b; Sandberg & Hofferth, 2001), anecdotal evidence suggests that today's parents face great challenges in getting enough time with children as they adopt various strategies to juggle family life with paid work and other obligations. Yet, despite the concerns of policy makers, scholars, and parents and children themselves of parents' spending time with children, there is little systematic research on how American parents actually feel about the amount of time they spend with their children, and what factors are associated with these feelings.

In this study, we first examine the factors that are associated with feelings of time deficits with children. We focus on four characteristics of parents and families: parent's gender, child's age, parental employment, and family structure. First, differential expectations of mothers and fathers, despite changing ideologies about gender, still place a higher premium on mothers' time with children. Numerous articles in the popular press underscore the notion that mothers should be ever available and endlessly enriching their children with time, energy, and quality activities (Hays, 1996). Second, parents might feel quite differently about the amount of time they spend with preschoolers, elementary school-age children, and adolescents. As children grow, their needs and desires change, and parents' beliefs about how much they should be involved in their children's lives may also change (Galinsky, 1981). Third, a time squeeze among working parents has been widely documented. The Second Shift (Hochschild, 1989) chronicles the speed-up of family life, where constant demands, in conjunction with little support from workplaces or the government, make employed parents' time with children seem stretched to the limit. Last, there has been a dramatic rise in parents who are unmarried or in dual-earner families-that is, parents without a "wife" at home to help balance time demands (Casper & Bianchi, 2002; Jacobs & Gerson, 1998). Daly's (2001) qualitative work on parents in these time-poor families emphasizes the chronic undersupply of family time, and a desperate yearning for togetherness.

The second question we address is how parental and family statuses are associated with feelings once we controlled for the actual amount of time that parents spend with children. For example, to what extent do single parents feel more time deficits compared with their married counterparts, simply because they spend fewer hours with children or engage in fewer focused activities with children? …

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