Family mealtimes can be impacted by parent’s job stress
The Sector > Research > Family mealtimes can be impacted by parent’s job stress

Family mealtimes can be impacted by parent’s job stress

by Freya Lucas

October 04, 2023

Family mealtimes are important for parents and children, offering a space for communication, socialisation, and to build attachment relationships, however maintaining consistent meal times can be a challenge for busy working parents. 


A new study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has explored how parents’ job stress influenced their attendance at family mealtimes, and in turn, children’s socioemotional development.


“When it comes to co-parenting in dual-earner families, which comprises 65 per cent of families with children in the United States, we do not know much about how mothers and fathers share caregiving roles under work stress,” explained lead author Sehyun Ju.


The study included data from more than 1,400 dual-earner families, consisting of heterosexual married couples with children, in a nationally representative survey that traced children’s development across family, home, childcare, and school environments from 9 months to kindergarten. The researchers focused on the interplay of child characteristics, family mealtimes, and parents’ job and financial dissatisfaction.


“We found that children of parents who expressed higher work-related stress when the children were two years old had lower socioemotional competence at age four to five years of age, measured by lower positive and higher negative social behaviors,” Ms Ju explained. 


There were significant differences regarding the impact of mothers’ and fathers’ work stress. For mothers, higher job dissatisfaction did not impact frequency of family mealtimes; however, it was directly associated with lower socioemotional competency in their children. 


On the other hand, fathers who had higher job and financial dissatisfaction were less likely to attend family mealtimes with their children, and this in turn resulted in the children having lower socioemotional competence at age four to five years of age. 


“Even when the mother increased her mealtime presence to compensate for the father’s absence, the child’s socioemotional development was still negatively impacted. 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,” co-author Qiujie Gong added.


The paper, “Association of parents’ work-related stress and children’s socioemotional competency: Indirect effects of family mealtimes” was published in Journal of Family Psychology and may be accessed here.

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