You hear a lot at about working mums and dads and how they feel about making it all work, but very rarely do you hear about what their children think. So I decided to ask some children what they really think about their parents’ work life.
Let’s start with me. I’m 17 years old. My dad works for an electrical distributors company and my mum works as an inclusion officer for a local council. I have a two-year-old sister and a 13-year-old brother.
I feel that my dad works quite long hours and some nights I don’t really see him. If I do see him it is only briefly. The time that I see him the most is probably at the weekends and this is because he no longer works on Saturdays. Sometimes this bothers me, but when we do see each other I feel that we have more to talk about. I don’t feel as though his work has affected our father daughter relationship.
My mum has now moved jobs which means that she can spend more time at home. She was working four full days. She is now working three days and finishing in time to do the school run. This means I have more time with my mum than I did before. It also means she is able to see a lot more of my younger sister than she did of my brother and me when I was younger. My grandmother used to help out a lot, but she has now moved away. I think my sister is quite lucky as she gets to spend more time with my mum than I did at that age.
However, there have been benefits to having not had her around so much. I feel it has made me more independent and I do not rely on my parents as much as I think other children do.
What about my brother? He thinks it is good that our parents work as they earn money to pay the bills. He said that our dad working long hours does affect him as he can’t take him places, but he doesn’t think that the hours have affected their relationship. However, he did say that he feels that he is closer to our mum.
I asked other young people what they thought. Several mentioned that their dads work long hours and some said that meant they were often tired and/or bad tempered when they got home.
Lucy, 16, says her dad, a carpet fitter, often works late and come in tired and angry which makes the whole family stressed. Her mum works part time at the local playgroup. She still talks to her dad a lot, but usually at the weekend or on the phone.
Charlotte, who is 10 years old, also doesn’t see as much of her dad as she’d like to and says she mostly sees him at weekends. Her mum works during school hours which means she is around after school.
And Alex, aged 15, says he thinks his dad works too hard and too much. “He works long hours and doesn’t get paid for the extra work he does. He works in the holidays and at home, so he can never leave work basically. Sometimes he works from home on the weekends.”
He adds: “I don’t spend much time with my dad. My mum comes back from work and cooks. When my dad comes back he’s all grumpy and in a bad mood.”
But others say that the quality time they spend with their parents can offset long working hours. Sophie, 16, says her dad, who owns his own catering business, has to work weekends and some holidays. Her mum helps out at a special needs school so is around after school. She says: ”I do not think that my parents working has affected our relationship as when we do spend time together it’s better.”
Leila, aged 10, says she finds her parents’ jobs interesting. Her dad works four and a half days and her mum is full time, but freelance. She likes her dad’s job because he works in social services. “He helps people and that is what life is all about,” she says. Her mum is a reporter and she wants to be one too. “She gets to talk to really interesting people and find out about the world,” she says.
She says that she doesn’t think the fact they are both working full time affects her because she understands why they work. She adds that her mum started working from home so she could be around more for her children because her dad’s job is more difficult to do from home.
Keaton, 16, has two mothers. He says they both work “too much, too long and travel for work too much”. He feels their hours affect him “because otherwise I’m lonely and I need help for homework and life”.
Has the way their parents work affected young people’s ideas about raising a family and working?
When I enter work life I want to have the same opportunities that men have. I think that men and women should be treated equally in the workplace and that both men and women should be involved in childcare. I feel that men should be as entitled as women to work part time. I do want children, but I don’t want that to affect my ambitions. I want to be able to have time with my children and still be able to work and I want my children’s dad to have the same opportunities. My brother feels it is important to have a balance between family and work.
Others seem to follow their own parents’ model. Lucy says she would like to be a beautician when she grows up, but when she has children she would like to reduce her hours. Sophie says she is also keen to work reduced hours, like her mum. “For the first couple of years of my children’s lives I would like to be around. They would take priority,” she says.
For some, though, it is important that caring should be shared equally. For Charlotte, who wants to work with animals, it will also be important to reduce her hours when her children are little, but she says she doesn’t think it matters if it is her or the dad who reduces their hours.
Leila would like to work from home like her mum, but thinks parents should share childcare and housework. “Dads can clean and cook and look after the children just as much as a mum can,” she says. Keaton agrees that both parents should take an equal role in childcare.
Alex is more pragmatic. He says: “I want a good balance between work and spending time with my children. I think that people nowadays live to work instead of working to live.” He thinks that men and women should share work hours equally. He states: “I’d like to think it would be equal, but at the end of the day we have to wait and see, because some people will end up being the main breadwinner. In an ideal world it would be equal, but it’s not always like that.”