The Kids Are Alright…but Are the Parents?: Analyzing Mothers' and Fathers' Affective Experience of Time with Children
Knop, Brian Michael (author)
Brewster, Karin L. (professor directing dissertation)
Radey, Melissa (university representative)
Shrock, Douglas P. (committee member)
Tillman, Kathryn H. (committee member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Social Sciences and Public Policy (degree granting college)
Department of Sociology (degree granting department)
Despite cultural expectations about children providing parents happiness and a sense of purpose, the emotional toll of parenthood may be more substantial and the benefits may be less pronounced than one might assume. Previous research finds that parents are more stressed, depressed, and have lower life satisfaction than non-parents (Clark et al. 2008; Evenson and Simon 2005; Stanca 2012). However, comparisons between parents and non-parents take for granted that emotional well-being is rooted in everyday lived experiences. Families are emotional eco-systems—feelings are transmitted from one member to the next. A parent's emotional expressions can shape a child's mood (Repetti et al. 2015) and long term emotional development (Conger et al. 2000). This dissertation uses data from the American Time Use Survey to analyze how parents feel during interactions with their children. Because of established gender differences in parental well-being (Umberson et al. 2010) and time spent in parenting activities (Offer and Schneider 2011), I draw comparisons between mothers and fathers throughout the analyses. In my first set of findings, I uncover activity-level context surrounding parent-child interactions, including duration, social context, location, the presence of a spouse or partner, and the types of activities during which these interactions took place. Fathers were more likely to have a spouse or partner present during interactions with their children, especially in activities taking place outside the home. A higher share of fathers' interactions took place on the weekend and in the evenings. Also, duration of mothers' time in individual activities were shorter compared to fathers. In the next set of analyses, I focus on how parents experience time with their children, analyzing in-the-moment stress, happiness, meaning, and fatigue. To capture the co-occurring nature of these feelings, I used latent class analysis. Latent class analysis allows for unobserved groups (or classes) to emerge, based on a series of variables in the data set. Using the four measures listed above, I analyzed latent classes of parental affect that exist in the sample of parent-child interactions. Results suggested that parents' emotions during interactions with their children are characterized by five distinct profiles. Three of these profiles, which I labeled positive affect, mixed affect, and contented affect, applied to both mothers and fathers. A small share of parents experienced one of two remaining affective profiles: low-meaning affect, which emerged only for mothers, and negative affect, which emerged only for fathers. I found that what parents do with their children, including when and with whom matters for parental affect. Having a partner or spouse present during an interaction is associated with positive parental affect, net of the effect of location and type of activity. In the final set of analyses, I examined gender differences in the association between employment status and parental affect. Working fathers were more likely to have a positive affect during parent-child interactions compared to fathers who are not employed. Employment status did not have the same effect on mothers' well-being. However, having an employed spouse or partner decreases mothers' likelihood of being in the parental latent class that is characterized by very low levels of meaning. Fathers, too, appear to benefit from an employed spouse or partner: when their spouse or partner works, they are less likely to be in the negative affect class of fathers. Taken together, this research highlights the importance of understanding how parents feel during everyday parenting moments and why some parents are emotionally better or worse off than other parents.
Employment, Gender, Parental Well-Being, Parenthood
April 7, 2017.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Sociology in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Karin Brewster, Professor Directing Dissertation; Melissa Radey, University Representative; Douglas Shrock, Committee Member; Kathryn Harker Tillman, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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