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American Kids Now Know That Parents Work Too Much

When parents went out into the world to work, kids thought they worked too much. Now? They're seeing that we do.

It’s not surprising that Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day has been indefinitely postponed this year. After all, thanks to coronavirus, most parents don’t have work they can take kids to. A growing number of Americans are unemployed. The worksites of essential workers are too risky for kids to visit. The rest are working remotely. 

“With the virus, the board made a decision to postpone the day hoping that it would get better in April or May,” says Carolyn McKecuen, President of the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation. “But I’ve got my doubts that it’s going to be anytime soon.”

This marks the first April without a Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day since the annual event was founded in 1992 as Take Our Daughters to Work Day and give children a glimpse of where their parents go during the day. Now that day is, well, every day. And as kids watch their parents work at home, the same old narrative persists: Americans work long hours and kids want their parents to devote more time to them. When parents went out into the world to work, kids thought they worked too much. Now? They’re seeing that we do. 

With schools closed, extracurricular activities canceled, and parents at home, life under COVID-19 feels like a series of Saturdays for kids in America young enough to be unfazed by the pandemic’s ambient anxiety. But for parents who are still working, weekdays are still weekdays. They’re clocking in from home and still have to spend eight hours or more each day for meetings, deadlines, and other work obligations. Kids are excited to have their parents around but expect them to give them all of their attention. But that isn’t the case. 

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“The worst thing about being at home during this pandemic is that it’s impossible not to feel like you’re neglecting your children,” Connecticut father of two Sujal Shah summed up perfectly in a recent Instagram post. 

Shah is not alone. Parents across the country are struggling to balance work and home while working from home. As they shelter in place with spouses and kids for longer and longer stretches of time, many have to juggle full work days while scrambling to ensure their children attend video conferences with teachers and complete school activities. 

But while COVID-19 has ramped up the difficulty by placing family and work responsibilities under the same roof, the problem isn’t new. American kids have questioned the mainstream approach to balancing work and family for a while. A 2003 survey of high school students working their first jobs revealed that 81 percent of girls and 59 percent of boys planned to reduce their work hours when they have children. In a 2018 Careerbuilder survey of American parents, 24 percent of respondents said their children wanted them to spend less time at work but more than one-third reported missing major events in their children’s lives because of work. Twenty-one-percent said they missed three or more of their kids’ milestones. 

Millennials are almost twice as likely to have a working spouse or partner than their Baby Boomer parents. Data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that while American employers are increasingly offering flexible work schedules and allowing employees work from home, the amount of time Americans spend working has been mostly steady according to Gallup’s work and workplace survey

American parents are spending more time in their homes but that time isn’t necessarily devoted to our kids. Email, texts, slack, and videoconferencing keep us chained to work responsibilities around the clock. Many American parents sacrifice family time for work. While there’s evidence that children benefit from having working parents, in a 2014 survey of teachers, more than half of respondents were concerned that parents were spending far less time with their children than they did 20 years ago.

Research suggests that choosing work over family transmits through generations. A 2017 study published in the journal Human Relations found that people base their feelings about work-life balance on their parents more than societal trends and cultural shifts.  

Bring Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day has evolved along with the changing workplace.  When the Ms. Foundation for Women launched Take Your Daughter to Work Day in the early ‘90s, it was a feminist program that intended to increase girls’ self esteem by inspiring them to succeed in the workplace. Since expanding to include boys in 2003, the purpose of the day shifted. In addition to giving children an early glimpse into adult employment, the day strives to encourage children to “think imaginatively about their family, work and community lives and open them to the “power and possibilities associated with a balanced work and family life.”

“It really was a gender piece that started the whole thing,” McKecuen says. “And now it’s really more about both the men and the women working not just at the job, but working at being a parent.”