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Parents Working At Home Hurts Kids

By Sierra Black |

2650178369_a012269010USA Today offers a heaping helping of guilt to working parents today with a story about how work at home hours conflict with family time.

Recent studies have shown that in spite of the rise of dual-income families, parents today spend more time with their kids than they did in the 1950s.

Now USA Today has rounded up a slew of experts to say that parents, especially moms, are hurting our kids by working when they’re around. Don’t worry, though, moms. You can still do housework.

The reporting is based, for the most part, on anecdote rather than data. The experts – psychologists, sociologists and parents – interviewed for the article all feel that the technology parents use to make their schedules more flexible also distracts them from focusing on their kids. But no one has any data to prove this.

Instead the story is peppered with comments like this on from Sherry Turkle, director of MITs Initiative for Technology and the Self:

“A mother putting laundry in while the child sits on the couch is not the same as a mother concentrating on this screen and going into this virtual space. Kids are totally attuned. They know … their parents are in la-la land.”

That’s right: you can do all the housework you want and not risk neglecting your kids. But if you’re using your Blackberry (and by implication your brain), your children will feel ignored.

It’s a popular sentiment, echoed by a columnist at MomLogic who just took a vow not to use her Blackberry when she’s out in public with her kid. Unless that phone call or e-mail is really important, mind. It’s not like she’s contemplating leaving the device at home or anything crazy like that.

To me it just feels like another mechanism of social control on moms. It’s not enough to be with your kids, the logic seems to go. You need to be giving them your undivided attention at all times.

This is a complicated issue. Technology can be addictive; I’ve definitely caught myself checking my e-mail at the dinner table a few times since I got my iPhone. As a parent who works at home and has primary caretaking responsibility for the kids, I work hard to set aside time that’s just for them. Technology makes it easier for me to work and harder for me to keep work at bay when it’s storytime.

On the other hand, most parents need to work. Nearly half of households with young kids have both parents working full time.

Not only do a lot of us prefer to spend time with our kids, but many of us can’t afford to pay for childcare for all the hours we need to be working. If we can answer a few e-mails while our kids play at the playground, I for one am willing to call that a win.

Photo: Ed Yourdon

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About Sierra Black

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Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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23 thoughts on “Parents Working At Home Hurts Kids

  1. Heather says:

    Think about anything long and hard enough and you will find a way that is “damages” your kids. Kids are more resilient than we want to believe. It also doesn’t hurt for them to learn, that while they are loved by their parents, they are not always the center of attention, and occasionally they have to wait while Mom and Dad finish something, no matter what that something is.

  2. TC says:

    I’m curious as to why they don’t say “dads who work damage children”. It seems that moms are pretty much damaging their children if they do anything but stay at home and cater to their every need (even part time). Goodness…

  3. GtothemfckinP says:

    I work from home and am on the ‘puter all day long…intermittently. I take breaks to play…when we go on an outing I have no iPhone, BB, etc. (I just don’t own one…) I think it really depends on the person. Hell, I do YOGA while my kid is playing around me and I interact with her and am still in my zone. I can do lots of work while I interact with her. Some people are just good at multitasking. Of course, there are some things I CAN’T do while I hang with her, that require more focus, and I do those when she’s at preschool or sleeping. I think my kid has an awesome imagination and a great ability to be absorbed in her play independently because of my working. Bah. And I am still home with her, which counts for alot, to me.

  4. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    When I fart, it damages my kid.

  5. GtothemfckinP says:

    Well, I will have to cop to that one. It hurts the whole family.

  6. claudia says:

    For most of human history, parents have not been expected to “play” with their children, merely make sure they are safe and have good morals. Women have been working at home in some way, shape, or form for years (very traditionally doing things like dressmaking, hairstyling, etc.) So mom is working with technology now. I don’t see how this is any different and how kids won’t be able to cope with this like they’ve been able to cope with every other type of business mom’s have had to have to make ends meet.

    An actual study would be nice, this just seems generated with some quotes from academics (most likely taken out of context) to generate some hits on their webpage during a slow news day.

  7. Louise says:

    TC, that’s an interesting point. This is a gross generalization, but sometimes I get the impression that people assume that, for dads, the choice is between the Blackberry and the office, while for moms, the choice is between the Blackberry and forgoing work altogether while at home. In other words, a dad that checks email while he’s with his family is making a heroic effort to spend more time with the kids by using a tool that allows him to be physically away from the office, while a mom that checks email while she’s with her family is avoiding really engaging with her kids. Meanwhile, everyone is just trying to make the most of their limited time.

  8. RP says:

    Nothing wrong with checking e-mail or whatever while being around your kids. You don’t have to interact with them all their waking hours. It is good for kids to learn to play on their own and most want some time to play alone or just with friends.

  9. j says:

    Checking my emails and blogs while they eat pancakes that I just made from scratch. Seriously, USA Today can suck it.

  10. Sierra Black says:

    @ j. That was pretty much my reaction.

  11. BlackOrchid says:

    @ j and Sierra Black:

    Agreed. Also, isn’t USA Today that cartoon newspaper for functional illiterates? If they said the Pope was Catholic, I’d google it before believing them.

  12. Anonymom says:

    I work from home because it is cheaper than going to the office. (No childcare expenses). I think my child likes having food on the table. Eff you, USA Today.

  13. Maureen says:

    Hey “scientists”, please stop doing studies about how I am damaging my kids! Seriously, this shit is really getting old. I could get all defensive and start listing off the reasons why this theory is flawed, but really, I’m tired… I’m just so tired of trying to explain that my family is doing okay.

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  16. Jessica says:

    I think its a crying shame that the media is putting so much pressure on moms to not work for fear of harming there children some families need two incomes and some moms like me are building a business at home. It doesn’t harm our kids to see us hard at work. It much more harm to see a lazy parent than a hard working one.

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  20. Marissa says:

    I’m a writer, I write while my kids are napping, while they’re at school, while they’re on playdates, at night and every other time I can get it in while they don’t notice. They are perfectly fine. I’m always there, I cook for them, I play with them, I read to them, I’m a very involved parent, and I work from home. Like “J” said, USA Today, can suck it.

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