Nurturing Families Initiative

Director: Shelley MacDermid, professor, Department of Child Development and Family Studies; director, Center for Families

Assistant Director: Cathy Flynn, post-doctoral research scientist, Department of Child Development and Family Studies

Staff: Rona Schwarz, post-doctoral research associate, Department of Child Development and Family Studies

Graduate Students: Abigail Tolhurst, Ashley Harvey, Candice Olmstead, Beckie Sero

Undergraduate Students: Cindy Clark and Kristi Staley

Partner: Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Boston College School of Social Work

Funding: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, $399,923

Term of Project: August 2000-May 2003 and beyond

Description: The Nurturing Families Initiative originally consisted of a single study. It focused on parents of middle school children and was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Data was gathered in four communities with populations of 30,000 to 50,000; two communities in 2000 to 2001 and two the following academic year.

Susan Kontos and Jim Elicker received funding for a second project that joined the Nurturing Families Initiative – Families and the First Job. They received approximately $700,000 from 2000 to 2005 to study the child care situations faced by low-income families.

Evidence of Impact: The executive summary is below. You can als2003o download the final report to the Sloan Foundation and see a list of publications that resulted from this project.

The Nurturing Families Initiative was a multi-method investigation that gathered data from working parents and middle school-age children. The purpose of this study was to gain new insights about the intricate connections between paid work and caregiving among working families.

Members of 199 working families with middle school-age children who resided in six different communities in the United States participated in this study. In addition, researchers collected information from human resource departments where the parents worked, as well as from social service providers in the communities.

The investigators gathered data through: written questionnaires, in-person interviews, experience sampling methods, and follow-up telephone interviews.

This report provides summary information from the first analyses of the data gathered from 2002 to 2003. The study was designed to focus on four major questions:

  1. What do employed mothers and fathers see as the content and meaning of their first job?
  2. What resources do mothers and fathers marshal to carry out the first job?
  3. What day-to-day behaviors are associated with the first job?
  4. How do different social settings (such as workplaces, residential communities, and schools) offer opportunities and constraints for fulfilling the demands of the first job?

Analyses conducted to date have already contributed to our understanding of these questions. For example:

  • 85% of the parents in our study told us that they were either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their jobs.
  • When asked to grade their jobs, 40% of the parents gave their jobs an A.
  • Nearly three-fourths of the parents said there was less than a 20% chance that they would leave their jobs in the next six months, and 25% of the human resource professionals reported that retaining quality employees was a major problem for their workplace.
  • 58% of the parents reported that they have complete or a lot of control over their work schedules.
  • About half (49%) of the parents rated their benefits packages as above average, as did the human resource managers, with 51% indicating that their packages were better than most.
  • Although only 14% of the parents reported that, within the past month, their personal lives had interfered with their work lives to a moderate/very great extent, nearly one-third (32%) said that their work lives had interfered with their personal lives.
  • Parents who reported that their work interferes with their personal lives were more likely to give their jobs a grade of C, D, or F than those who did not.
  • Most of the parents (68%) reported that they are successful/completely successful balancing their paid work and family life. However, 35% said they felt used up at the end of the workday often/nearly always, 24% felt burned out by the stress of work often/nearly always, and 22% felt emotionally drained from their work often/nearly always.
  • 22% of the parents reported that it is difficult/very difficult to have meals with their families.
  • Parents appear to be actively engaged in efforts to effectively manage their work and their family responsibilities. For example, 40% or more of the parents reported that they used the following strategies and tactics always or nearly always. They encouraged their child(ren) to be self-sufficient in a way that is appropriate for their ages; planned schedules out ahead of time; completed all their work during work time so that they don’t have to bring work home; [and their spouses] covered for each other with regard to household or family responsibilities if either had more to do at work than usual; changed their schedules around, as best they could, to fit in special needs and events at home or at work; and saw the humor in their experiences at home and at work.
  • Most of the parents (58%) said they never/almost never ask their supervisors to temporarily reduce their workloads as a way to manage their work and family responsibilities.
  • Greater percentages of parents who reported that they had at least some control over their work hours were more likely to say that they were high users of two groups of strategies: limiting/adjusting work to family priorities and being efficient/planful, than those with little or no control over their hours.
  • Parents who indicated they had high work-to-family interference were more likely to report high use of two types of strategies to manage their work and family: limiting non-work activities and high use of adjusting priorities and standards.
  • Overall, the working parents gave the grade of B or B+ to their schools, neighborhoods, and communities.
  • A majority of the parents indicated that their communities can be welcoming places for preteens and teens, with two-thirds (67%) saying that they agreed/strongly agreed that their communities celebrate the talents and accomplishments of these young people.
  • Approximately four of every 10 of the parents (37%) agreed/strongly agreed that people in our community seem to believe in the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
  • About one-third of the parents (31%) strongly agreed that their community is a good place to raise children
  • Parents who reported higher use of community-based strategies, such as encouraging their children to become involved in community activities, had higher role balance (r = .21, p = .000), higher family functioning (r = .21, p = .000), and higher life satisfaction (r = .21, p = .000) when compared to those who reported lower use of these community-based strategies.
  • Parents who identified their communities as having strengths with regard to neighborhood relationships, values that welcome diverse families, family supportiveness, and accessibility scored higher on outcomes, such as role balance, general family functioning, and life satisfaction.
  • Whereas 60% of the parents gave a grade of A to their children’s school for supporting the total development of middle school-age children, only 35% gave an A for promoting positive relationships with parents, and 20% gave an A for promoting strong families.
  • Only one-quarter of the children gave their schools a grade of A for having activities for families.
  • 44% of the working parents reported high involvement in their children’s educational experiences outside of school, such as helping with homework. One-fourth (26%) said they had high involvement in the school activities, such as the PTO.
  • Most of the middle school-age children (77%) reported that they spent just enough time with their mothers, whereas 19% felt that they spent too little time with their mothers during weekdays.
  • However, only one-half (54%)of the adolescents said they spent enough time with their fathers during the week, with 40% reporting that they spent too little time with their fathers during weekdays.
  • Approximately one-third (37%) of the adolescents reported that their fathers sometimes came home from work in a good mood, 58% reported that they always came home in a good mood, and only 4% reported that they never came home in a good mood.
  • The findings were very similar for mothers: 35% of the adolescents reported that their mothers sometimes came home from work in a good mood, 60% reported that they always came home in a good mood, and 4% reported that they never came home in a good mood. We anticipate that the findings of this study will expand ongoing debates and discussions about the intricate intersections of the first job and paid work. Furthermore, we expect that the results of this investigation will stimulate additional research interest in the nature of the first job of working families.