Our lives were supposed to be more flexible and family-friendly thanks to the technology at our fingertips. But in this age of BlackBerrys and recession pressures and working from home after hours and on weekends, family time may not be working out the way we thought.
Busy parents who envisioned more time with the kids are finding that more work hours at home don’t necessarily translate into quality time with them.
Some studies suggest parents today do have more face time with their children than their counterparts decades ago, largely driven by increased time spent with fathers. An analysis released last month by two California economists looked at a dozen nationally representative surveys from 1965 to 2008 and found the amount of time parents spend on child care is up dramatically since the 1990s, especially among the highly educated.
But a growing number of researchers say that’s only part of the story. The technology that allows parents to spend more time at home — laptops and cellphones and mobile e-mail — is blurring the lines between work and personal life and distracting them from the “family time” they crave.
Studies that show parents who spend more time than ever with their kids today don’t necessarily capture what’s happening between them, says sociologist Barbara Schneider of Michigan State University in East Lansing. “If you’re not connecting with Mom and Dad — just because you’re in the house with them — what difference does it make?”
These questions have become so much a part of life in a modern technological society that the tug of war between work and family time is among topics to be discussed when about 1,800 demographers, sociologists, economists and others gather for the Population Association of America’s three-day annual meeting, which begins Thursday in Dallas.
Nearly half of American workers bring work home with them regularly, according to a study of 1,800 workers published in December in the American Sociological Review.
And even though an always-on BlackBerry mom may think she’s a master of multitasking, children know better.
Today’s parents might not even realize how their divided attention plays out with kids, says Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
“That mother shows up in these surveys as being with the child, but is she actually, if she’s on the BlackBerry in the car?” Turkle says. “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.”