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The Traditional Family Essay, Research Paper

Differences in employment schedules among spouses contribute to the complexity of home life, yet the many dimensions of this important link remain largely undetermined, particularly with regard to primary care giving (PCG) fathers (Frank, 1995). The traditional family is characterized by the division of roles whereby one spouse (husband) is involved primarily in paid work and the other spouse (wife) primarily attends to family work, specifically the activities of household and child care (Pleck, 1983). In the last few decades, a growing number of families were classified as dual-career couples in which both spouses pursued a lifelong career, relatively uninterrupted, and also established a family life that included children (Dancer and Gilbert, 1993). More recently, however, some husbands have been staying home to assume child rearing practices while the wife remains involved in paid work and in pursuit of a career. A 1991 United States Census Bureau survey of income and program participation estimates that “one of every five preschoolers (under age 5) had their father at home with them while their mother was at work” (O’Connell, 1993, p. 3).

This trend reflects an evolving self-fulfillment or self-development ethic in which younger, well-educated workers have focused on personal growth , quality of life, and family responsibilities. This runs counter with the career ethic, which implies that employees will perform and strive for promotions even when their work is not particularly satisfying or interesting. While career development is still a vital concern, many workers do not want to delay the development of private life skills. Even though people still believe work is important, attitudes have changed about how and when they want to work and the effects of work on family.

Although research about PCG fathers is sparse, research about working and PCG mothers is obtainable. For example, within the family, the primary care giving and work roles are associated with the quality and functioning of the family. In reviewing research on maternal employment and social policy, Lerner (1994) concludes “… that maternal behavior toward children is enhanced when the mother is in her preferred role. That role can be homemaking or employment outside the home. The benefits that are associated with maternal role satisfaction are both more optimal child functioning and more optimal parental functioning” (p. 93). Concerning perceptions of marital quality, Lerner (1994) finds that “… expectations and practices surrounding role divisions are more important than either socioeconomic or life cycle variables…” (p. 113). Lerner also finds that the division of labor inside the home is a major factor contributing to perceived quality of marriage by both partners, such that the more that the husband does inside the home the greater the perceived quality of marriage. Given such effects of roles within the family, we might expect that such roles and role congruence will affect perceptions of careers as well.

A majority of men and women currently available for work are in their childbearing years, and most will have children during their work careers (Friedman, 1991). Behavioral scientists, corporate leaders, and policy makers have become increasingly interested in the ways in which work and family life are interconnected. Coakley (1996) found that the desire for work schedule autonomy was positively related to work/family conflict and intent to leave the organization, indicating the challenge that may be faced by employers in retaining employees. Many organizations are trying to design and implement family-supportive policies with the changing needs of today’s workforce (e.g., telecommuting, home-based work, daycare) in order to retain capable, dedicated employees who may otherwise leave for family responsibilities. Much concern has centered on the implications of ‘taking time off’ to raise children from a women’s perspective. Surprisingly, little research has examined men who choose the role of PCG and how this decision impacts their career progress and perceptions of life when they return to paid work.

Parents who reenter the workforce after taking time off to raise children may face certain challenges. They may have to be socialized into the work organization which involves both technical “on the job training” and the more informal transfer of the organizational culture and its informal norms and codes of conduct to the individual, as well as providing him or her with social cues and information necessary to interpret the formal environment (Hackman, 1976). There may be differences in income for reemployed individuals. Studies find that employment gaps were more damaging for men’s future income than women’s, although women with uninterrupted employment still had significantly lower incomes than men. Controlling for work experience, it was speculated that the damage to men’s future income was due to discrimination or deviating from the stereotyped image of a male manager with uninterrupted employment.

These individuals may also be concerned that an employment gap may stunt their career progress. They may feel behind other people in the organization due to low visibility and involvement in a job for a period of time. According to Zedeck (1992), as employees ascend in the organization’s hierarchy, criteria for evaluation are increasingly vague, and the signals relied on are therefore visibility, collegiality, salience in discussions, and other visible signs of effort, organizational citizenship, presentability, and leadership. Perin (1990) discussed the importance of overtime and long hours as signals of both commitment and success in organizations. Schneer and Reitman (1990) also found that men’s career satisfaction decreased after work interruption. In short, the psychological task of balancing or reintegrating work and family roles may be very difficult.

These considerations lead me to the tentative conclusion that individuals, particularly men, who have stayed at home rearing children are concerned that they will have a harder time pursuing a career upon reentry into the workforce. The notions of career and career success for parents who reenter the workforce may differ from parents involved in dual-career marriages, and such differences may exist between men and women who take on PCG responsibility. Additionally, the parenting experience and demographic factors, such as satisfaction with the PCG role and income, may affect such concerns about career.

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