In an article Monday on working parents and their children, the last name of Peter and Adrienne Boice was misspelled. (Published 09/29/99)

High school senior Emily Small, of Arlington, is quick to detect the signs of work pressure in her parents' lives. Her mother, Susan, 49, a part-time teacher, breaks out in hives; her father, Joe, 52, a lawyer who often works 11-hour days, turns snappish, and his sense of humor disappears.

Those are the days, Small says, when she doesn't mention that she has had a good day because she can tell from her dad's face that he hasn't.

"Those are the times you don't go near him," said Emily, 17, adding that she wishes her father could work fewer days and not worry so much about work when he is home. "He's so stressed," she said.

Two-thirds of U.S. children share similar worries about their parents, mainly because of what they perceive as work-related stress and fatigue, according to a new study of family life by researcher Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, a New York think tank that tracks workplace trends. The study, among the first to take such questions to children rather than their parents, is sparking debate on talk shows and at kitchen tables across the country, as families seek to navigate through the conflicting pressures of life.

Launched in the Washington area in 1997 and then broadened to 15 states, the new research comes at a time when other studies show Americans working harder and longer, with many feeling intense financial pressures, in some cases because of overspending.

Galinsky's study is based on random surveys of 1,023 children in grades 3 through 12 who filled out questionnaires, as well as on in-depth interviews with 170 parents and children and telephone interviews of 605 other employed parents. The findings are published in a new book called "Ask the Children: What America's Children Really Think About Working Parents."

Galinsky, interviewed at a Washington hotel last week, said that children from the Washington area and New York City were particularly aware of their parents' stress levels, heightened, she said, by long commutes, traffic congestion, the high cost of living and raised expectations for achievement.

In general, children in the study gave their parents high marks in parenting but wished they were under less stress -- even as the children indicated they worried about their families' finances.

Contrary to parents' beliefs, most youngsters didn't say they want more time with their parents. Instead, they want better communication and more "focused" time, with parents being less strained and tired. About 56 percent of employed parents thought their offspring wanted more time with them, but only 10 percent of the children wished for more time with their mother, and 15.5 percent said the same of their father.

"The major issue for kids is not that parents work," Galinsky said. "What kids are concerned about is how they work."

Children in the study didn't view employed and at-home mothers differently, or mothers who work full or part time -- grading them about the same on attributes such as "making me feel important and loved," "spending time talking with me" and "knowing what is really going on in my life."

Although no one is publicly disputing Galinsky's findings, some family research organizations disagree with her interpretations.

The book is "a guilt-buster," said Janet Parshall, of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based advocacy group. "This [book says] to working mothers in particular, `Don't worry about it; your kids love it when you work.' "

Parshall said working mothers are understandably stressed because they have to jam so many tasks into short periods, but she said it's a choice many women make freely. Galinsky's study, she said, is "trying to assuage that decision that the working mom makes to go out and self-actualize because she is living, sadly, in a culture that is devaluing the pricelessness of motherhood."

Galinsky said that she shares the Family Research Council's interest in improving family life, but that Parshall's belief that many women work out of choice is in error; in most households, Galinsky said, women work out of financial necessity.

Household income for families has remained almost flat over the last 20 years despite the mass entrance of mothers into the work force, studies have shown. "Most parents are not running to get ahead," Galinsky writes. "Essentially, they are running to stay in place, to preserve their standard of living."

Barbara Schneider, co-director of the Alfred P. Sloan Center on Parents, Children and Work at the University of Chicago, has studied 1,200 high-schoolers nationwide over the last nine years. Like Galinsky, Schneider found no long-term negative effect from having a working mother.

"There are other problems in children's lives, and it's not the fact that their parents are working," she said. "It's the fact that their parents aren't communicating with them that they have the most problems with."

Rather than children being focused on their working mothers, the bigger issue is the work status of their fathers, Galinsky reported. Children gave nonemployed fathers and those who work part time lower grades when it comes to making them feel "important and loved." Galinsky speculated that reflects societal expectations that men should be the economic providers, or that men who are unemployed may be depressed and nonresponsive to their children.

Even though studies have shown that today's fathers do more with their children, the children still view dads more negatively than moms. About 92 percent of Galinsky's subjects gave their mothers high marks for "being there for me when I am sick," compared with less than 75 percent who said that about their fathers; about 71 percent of moms but only 62 percent of dads were described as "being involved with what is happening to me at school."

Rockville father Peter Boyce juggles the demands of his three daughters and his job as director of conservation for the Department of Defense. Boyce, 53, has been leading his daughters' Girl Scout troops for nine years and eats lunch at his desk to get home early for family time. When he and his wife adopted their third child, Boyce came to work late each morning for six months.

Galinsky and other researchers say the long work hours increasingly common in the United States appear to be taking a toll on family life. An analysis released this month by the International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency, found that Americans now surpass every other industrialized nation in time spent on the job, with U.S. workers putting in the equivalent of two weeks more per year than the Japanese.

Over the last two decades, American fathers' time at work has increased by 3.1 hours per week, according to the Families and Work Institute; for mothers, it's 5.2 hours. Employed fathers with children younger than 18 now work an average of 50.9 hours per week; working mothers, 41.4 hours.

Galinsky cites "the relentless volley of work . . . the fact that there is no safe haven," as a stress-builder. "E-mail, voice mail, cell phones and portable computers all have eroded the boundaries between work time and nonwork time. They foster expectations of an instant response, of 24-hour-a-day availability," she writes.

Indeed, many companies are demanding greater productivity from their work force, said management consultant Mary Symmes, who counsels overstressed workers: "Employees tend to feel they have to work tougher, harder, longer hours. Employers' demands have increased. Everything is speeding up, going faster."

Life is "100 percent more stressful" than it used to be, agreed Dan Lagasse, 39, an Alexandria father of three (soon to be four) who said that in his job maintaining communications systems for the defense industry, "we work 365 days a year, 24 hours a day." The price, he said, is that he sometimes feels he has "no family life at all."

About 34 percent of children in Galinsky's study wished their parents were less stressed and tired. Even young children can pick up on the tension.

Seven-year-old Emilie Svenhager, of Lake Ridge, vividly recalls what it was like when her mother, Petra, 35, a single parent, managed a retail store at Potomac Mills earlier this year. Sometimes "she came home in the middle of the night," said Emily, and "she'd yell at the cat."

Some of that parental stress is self-imposed. Symmes said she sees a steady stream of workers who are "overachievers who can't rest for a minute" and who add more and more activities to their schedules until major problems erupt.

E. Thomas Garman, professor of consumer affairs and family financial management at Virginia Tech, said parents' materialism may contribute to feelings of financial stress. In one group of upper-middle-income workers in the Midwest that Garman studied, about 40 percent reported financial stresses, particularly in comparison to neighbors they perceived as more affluent.

"Now it's not just trying to keep up with the Joneses," he said. "Now it's more like they are trying to keep up with [Bill] Gates."

Some of that can be blamed on mass consumerism, but some is actual need. Nationally, about one in every five children lives below the poverty line ($16,600 for a family of four). Garman's studies have found that in families that earn the nation's median income -- $37,000 -- about 90 percent report financial stress.

One-quarter of the children in Galinsky's study wished their parents made more money; children who reported their families have a "hard time buying the things we need" were more likely to wish their moms and dad earned more. Galinsky said these children may see more money as a way to lessen family stress.

Even though her family lives a typical middle-class life, Rockville teenager Adrienne Boyce feels nervous about the future when she sees her parents struggle to balance their lives.

"It's a lot of work," said Boyce, 17, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School. "In addition to what you do 9 to 5, you also have to do other chores like make beds, clean the house, go grocery shopping, look after the car, pay your bills. It's kind of discouraging to know that in addition to working all that time, you have to do other things, too."

Children's View of Working Parents

The majority of America's children are not as concerned about the amount of time parents spend with them as much as they are about their parents' level of stress and fatigue, according to a new study of family life by researcher Ellen Galinsky.


Overall, parents say they don't spend enough time with their children, but a survey of children* shows that the majority think they have enough time with their working parents.

Overall, parents say they don't spend enough time with their children, but a survey of children* shows that the majority think they have enough time with their working parents.

Employed parents' perspective on spending time with children

Too little time Just enough time Too much time

MOTHERS 44% 52% 4%

FATHERS 56% 42% 2%

Children's perspective on spending time with employed parents

Too little time Just enough time Too much time

MOTHERS 28% 67% 6%

FATHERS 35% 60% 5%

*Third grade through 12th grade


Many children of working parents think their parents dislike their work, despite parents' saying otherwise.

To what extent do you like your work?

A lot Somewhat Very little Not at all

FATHER with CHILD age 8 through 18

60% 35% 4% 1%

MOTHER with CHILD age 8 through 18

69% 24% 7% 0

Do you think your mother/father likes her/his work?

A lot Somewhat Very little Not at all

CHILD, age 8 through 18, about FATHER

41% 46% 10% 4%

CHILD, age 8 through 18, about MOTHER

42% 43.5% 11% 4%


If children were allowed to make a change in their parents' work that would improve their quality of life, many look to money. Researchers speculate that children see "making more money" as a way to reduce stress and bring happiness.

Children's four top wishes for their employed mothers

Make more money 23%

Be less stressed by work 20%

Be less tired because of work 14%

Spend more time with me 10%

Children's four top wishes for their employed fathers

Make more money 23.0%

Be less stressed by work 15.5%

Be less tired because of work 15.0%

Spend more time with me 12.5%

SOURCE: "Ask the Children: What America's Children Really Think About Working Parents," by Ellen Galinsky