Many people fondly remember sharing dinner with their family as children. However, the demands of a hectic work life can sometimes prevent parents from enjoying this simple yet crucial moment with their kids.
Recent research conducted by scientists at the University of Illinois also suggests that ongoing work-related stress and missing out on family dinners could even negatively impact a child’s growth and development.
“We all struggle to maintain the balance between work life and family life. But this might be especially challenging for parents, who are engaging in childcare after a busy and stressful day at work,” said Sehyun Ju, a doctoral student in the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
“And when it comes to co-parenting in dual-earner families, which comprises 65% of families with children in the United States, we do not know much about how mothers and fathers share caregiving roles under work stress.”
For the study, the researchers tracked the growth of kids from 1,400 dual-income, straight families, observing them from the age of 9 months until they started kindergarten. The team looked at factors like the frequency of family dinners, parental job stress, and financial concerns to see how these elements influenced the children’s development.
Kids whose parents had elevated levels of job stress when the children were 2 years old exhibited weaker socioemotional skills at ages 4 to 5. Interestingly, the impact on the child’s development varied depending on whether it was the mom or dad experiencing the high work-related stress.
Moms who weren’t happy with their jobs tended to still show up for family dinners, but this didn’t prevent their children from having lower socioemotional skills. On the other hand, dads under a lot of work stress were generally less present at mealtime, and this also led to their kids displaying weaker socioemotional abilities around the ages of 4 to 5.
“Even when the mother increased her mealtime presence to compensate for the father’s absence, the child’s socioemotional development was still negatively impacted,” explained Quijie Gong, who is also a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign doctoral student.
“This indicates fathers may have a unique influence that cannot be replaced by the mother. Future intervention programs should help both parents obtain a better balance between work and family and highlight the importance of family routines to promote healthy child development.”