Top 5 Things Every Working Parent Should Know About Their Kids

Working parents, I get it. I’m one of you. With a full-time job, a three-year-old, and one on the way, it’s a daily struggle to find balance and sometimes the scales get tipped, typically in favor of work.

But our latest research, The Work Martyr’s Children: How Kids Are Harmed by America’s Lost Week, has me thinking twice about what it means to my family when I'm working off the clock, particularly if I’m using work as an excuse not to use time off.

It’s no secret that Americans, working parents or not, are bad about using the vacation time that they’ve earned. In fact, we are taking nearly a full work-week less vacation than at any point in the last forty years—just 16 vacation days today, down from an average of more than 20 days taken 15 years ago. But just how heavy a toll America’s Lost Week takes on children was a surprise to me, and may be a surprise for all working parents.

Below are the top five report findings that are critical for every parent to understand. 

1. You May Be Raising the Next Generation of Work Martyrs

Working parents may think they are shielding their children from work stress (I know I did), but a commanding six in seven children report seeing their parents bring work stress home. Further, 75 percent of kids say that their parent is unable to stop working while at home.

While this harms American families today, the example parents are setting may have the unintended consequence of creating the next generation of work martyrs.

2. Your Kids Understand Work Intrusions, But Are Hurt By Them

Nearly nine in ten (86%) children say they understand when their parents’ work intrudes at home, similar to the 96 percent of adults who reported understanding their significant other’s work intrusions in Project: Time Off’s July report, The Work Martyr’s Affair.

But children feel these disappointments more acutely than adults. While one in three (36%) couples argue over the time needed for work versus quality time for each other, six in ten (59%) kids say they are upset when their parents prioritize work over time with them. 

3. You're Missing Out on Memories

Despite its importance to children, nearly a quarter (22%) of working parents admitted that it had been more than a year since their last family vacation. The pressures that keep working parents at the office are consistent with that of all American workers, as identified in Project: Time Off’s Overwhelmed America study: fears of “coming back to a mountain of work” (29%) and concerns “no one else can do the job” (20%) top the list.

With millions of working parents admitting that it has been more than a year since their last family vacation, kids are missing out on time with their parents that they treasure most, and the memories that come with it. Childhood memories and family bonds should not be the collateral damage of overwork.

4. Vacation Time May Be Particularly Important for Teens

Three-quarters of teens said they want their parents deeply involved in their lives. It’s a higher number than stereotypes would have you believe. We interviewed two family and couples experts about the report findings and they shed a little light on why quality time together, like vacation, is so critical.

“Teenagers want bragging rights when they talk to their peers,” said Dr. Gilda Carle. “In this culture right now, a lot of kids are questioning whether or not their parents even care about them. Their ability to talk about their vacation is very important to them because it shows they have parents who care.”

Time together is particularly important to telling and shaping what Gurian calls the family story. “If we don’t give kids this time together, they’re not getting the family story,” shared Gurian. “The kids that give me the most worry are the ones moving into puberty—those years are especially sad when they don’t have a family story to tell, because their own lives are in such turmoil internally.”

Gurian added that when teen children are given that bedrock family story, it gives them a secure bond, “They will be more stable kids, they are going to have an easier adolescence—less drugs, less alcohol, less crime. That’s how visceral this is.” 

5. You’re Doing Better Than You Think

The children surveyed were asked to grade their working parents on how good a job they do when it comes to spending quality time with their kids. A strong 46 percent of kids gave their parents an “A” grade, far more generous than working parents are on themselves—just 28 percent gave themselves an “A.” But that approval slides the more often parents miss events. Fifty-eight percent of kids who report their parents never miss activities because of work give their parents an “A.” That number slips to just 29 percent for kids who said their parents sometimes or always miss events because of work.

Pulling up the grade does not have to be difficult. When children were asked to describe the “best or coolest thing” a parent has done with them, many of the responses were simple things: camping, trips to amusements parks, zoos, aquariums, and other attractions, and parents joining school field trips or scouting trips. Even the backyard can be a destination to kids. A 14-year-old girl in Arizona that we surveyed responded, “I know this isn't anything grand, but the most fun I've had with my Dad when he had time off from work, was when he bought a Slip ‘n Slide from Target and we played on it.”

September 22, 2015