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Ask the Children: The Breakthrough Study That Reveals How to Succeed at Work and Parenting

Ask the Children: The Breakthrough Study That Reveals How to Succeed at Work and Parenting

by Ellen Galinsky, Judy David

The first comprehensive study asking children and their mothers and fathers for their family views on work and family life offers dozens of proven strategies busy families can use to feel more successful at work and at home.  Noted work-family  researcher Ellen Galinsky overtunes accepted thinking on quality vs. quantity time and many other guilt-inducing


The first comprehensive study asking children and their mothers and fathers for their family views on work and family life offers dozens of proven strategies busy families can use to feel more successful at work and at home.  Noted work-family  researcher Ellen Galinsky overtunes accepted thinking on quality vs. quantity time and many other guilt-inducing "myths", reveals children's one greatest wish for changing how work affects their parents' lives, shares relationship stories of how families stay close, and outlines a brilliant new set of operating principles to navigate work-family challenges, including:

    Proven tactics for enhancing life at work
    Ways to de-stress at work and at home

    How to encourage family communication-and what to say to do once you have your child's attention 

    How to decode the messages your children are getting about the world and work

    Simple family traditions that foster well-adjusted children

    And much more

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This detailed and well-organized report is based on extensive interviews with children about how their parents navigate the responsibilities of home and work. Galinsky, the president and cofounder of Families and Work Institute and the author of The Six Stages of Parenthood, makes her rigorous scholarship accessible with succinct, vivid writing. The authors conclude that children are no less happy or healthy when both parents work but do suffer from stressful workplaces and unreliable shedules. One example of the original, compassionate, and realistic recommendations is to share with children what is enjoyable about work as much as its difficultis. The conclusions and recommendations are original, compassionate, and realistic. This is an important addition to the intense, ongoing cultural conversation, joining Arlie Hochschild's The Time Bind (LJ 5/1/97) and Toby L. Parcel and Elizabeth G. Menaghan's Parents' Jobs and Children's Lives (Aldine de Gruyter, 1994). Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.--Paula Dempsey, DePaul Univ. Lib., Chicago Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.93(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Reframing the Debate About

Working and Children

Why have we never asked children how they feel about working parents? Yes, they tell us, of course, from time to time, whether we want to hear from them or not. But why is it that whenever I mention that we are studying children's views of their employed parents, parents inevitably respond, I wonder what my children would say?" They wonder because they have never asked.

Why has a book like this one never been written, a comprehensive study like the one I have conducted never been done? After all, increasingly dual-earner families have become the norm. In all this time, have we not wanted to know what our children think?

The parents who first wonder what their children would say just as inevitably stop short and add, "I don't know if I want to know." "I would feel too guilty." "My child might say awful things about me." And for many mothers: "My child might tell me to stop working-to stay home."

Yet there is curiosity: "Don't tell me about what my own children say, but do tell me about what other people's children think."

Although many of us probably have not asked our own children, we are ready to listen. Over the years that I have worked on issues of work and family life, I have seen an evolution in our interest in understanding social change. At different times, there is a "societal readiness" to take on certain issues. I believe that we are ready to listen because it is finally the right time. More important, we are ready to listen because we really do need to know.

Recently, the Families and Work Institute cohosted a meeting ofbusiness leaders at which a neuroscientist presented an overview of what we know about the brain development of young children. He showed slides revealing that the brain of the child is wired by experience, both positive and negative. There were several other presentations, and then a strong discussion among the business leaders present. As the meeting was wrapping up, the moderator asked the audience, "What should the business community do in response to this information about the brain development of young children?" The room stilled; the heated discussion of moments before seemed frozen in time. Finally, Faith Wohl, president of the Child Care Action Campaign, broke the silence. "For the twenty years that I worked for a corporation," she began, "whenever the topic turned to the business community's responsibility for young children, we would say, 'That's the government's role.'Then I went to work for the federal government, and there we would say, 'It's the business community's role.' This subject is a hot potato, passed from unwilling player to unwilling player. And it is because we are still ambivalent about whether or not mothers should work."

Yet our feelings about whether or not mothers should work have changed over the past 30 years. They have changed because of what I think of as a national conversation about mothers' and fathers' roles in work and family life. Including children and their views of their working parents is the logical next step in this conversation.

Why do I call it a conversation? Essentially because the debate about the changing roles of women and men has taken place publicly. A controversial or tragic occurrence--a school shooting, a study, a book, a television show, a custody case, a trial-will arise that captures the public's attention because it presents a topic about which we are unsure or strongly divided. This topic will be widely discussed-at gatherings at work, around our kitchen tables, at parties with our friends and neighbors. One can almost chart the course of evolving public opinion by looking at these incidents.

Importantly, the conversation thus far has hinged on an either/or premise. I've found, however, that bringing both children and parents into the picture moves us beyond a black-and-white view.

The Ongoing Debate About Children

and Parental Employment

Is having a working mother good or bad for children? The debate in the 1960s centered on the question, Is having a working mother good or bad for children? It was first fueled by studies of children in orphanages showing that children separated from their mothers for long periods and raised in environmentally depressed conditions failed to thrive, even though they received adequate physical care.' Some social scientists and experts drew the conclusion that therefore mothers' working was bad for children. This opinion was countered by a number of researchers who said that the prolonged separation from mothers of children in an orphanage and the daily separations involved in child care could not be compared; therefore the jury was out on working mothers.

Between the 1960s and the late 1980s, a number of reviews of the research showed that there was little reason to be concerned about older children whose mothers worked. Although the public didn't necessarily agree, the public debate then shifted to infants. In 1988--perhaps not so coincidentally the very first year that a majority of mothers of infants were in the work force-Jay Belsky of Pennsylvania State University reported that a few studies indicated that infants whose mothers worked more than 20 hours a week in their child's first year of life were less likely to become securely attached to their mothers.' Since insecure attachments have been shown to lead to developmental problems in older children, and since some studies indicated that children with early experiences in child care are more aggressive, a public alarm was sounded.

Researchers immediately lined up on both sides of this issue on talk shows, and articles were published pro and con. Ultimately, the National Academy of Sciences convened a meeting bringing together what was informally called "the warring parties in the debate." This meeting led to a longitudinal study in the 1990s of approximately 1,300 children from ten communities by ten teams of researchers funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)...

What People are Saying About This

T. Berry Brazelton
This important book makes it clear that children have accepted the changes in work and family life today. Ask the Children captures their voices and shows how much they want to be part of what their parents do. It emphasizes how important it is to share your work with your child.
Gene Andrews
This book will reframe the business discussion around work and family. We now understand how satisfied workers tend to have more healthy family relations, which in turn impacts their productivity. Work is not a negative for children--it can be a positive if properly managed. And this book reminds us to feel less guilty.
— (Gene Andrews, Ph.D., former GE human resources executive)
James A. Levine
All too often people think of work and family as a women's issue. By asking the children, Ellen Galinsky has shown how important men are to children's lives. This is a must-read for all fathers as well as mothers. I can't recommend it highly enough.
— (James A. Levine, Ed.D., author of Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family)
Chris Kjeldsen
Ask the Children is an enlightening, poignant must-read for moms and dads--kids tell how working parents can be good parents.
— (Chris Kjeldsen, vice president, Community and Workplace Programs, Johnson & Johnson)
Stew D. Friedman
Ask the Children offers a richly textured, carefully argued point of view on why and how we must rethink the impact of parents' work on children's lives. Galinsky's conclusions are persuasive because they are grounded in solid research, and practical because they are put in terms of actions people can take to create change.
— (Stew D. Friedman, Ph.D., Wharton Work/Life Integration Project and Ford Motor Company)
Daniel J. Siegel
Ellen Galinsky has blazed a path toward addressing some of the most important issues facing American famlies today. The suggestions in the book are consistent with the most current views regarding the importance of human relationships in shaping our children's emotional lives.
— (Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., author of The Developing Mind: Toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience; medical director, UCLA, Infant and Preschool Service; associate clinical professor, UCLA School of Medicine)
Rosalind C. Barnett
At last! It is time to end the endless debate, accept as children do that working parents are here to stay, and get on with improving the lives of these famlies and their children.
— (Rosalind C. Barnett, Ph.D., senior scientist, Women's Studies Program, Brandeis University)
Arlene Skolnick
Ellen Galinsky reveals what working parents have wanted to know but were afraid to ask. Both employed and at-home parents will find this book reassuring and helpful, with many suggestions for improving their relationships with their kids. It cuts through the divisive rhetoric by telling us what really matters to children, and what they really want from their parents.
— (Arlene Skolnick, Ph.D., research psychologist, Institute of Human Development, University of California, Berkeley)
Faye Crosby
Reading this book is like coming to a clearing amid a forest of misinformation, accusation, and guilt. Everyone who cares about working families will benefit from Ask the Children.
— (Faye Crosby, Ph.D., author of Juggling; professor of psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz)

Meet the Author

Ellen Galinsky, president and cofounder of the Families and Work Institute, helped establish the field of work and family life at Bank Street College of Education, where she was on the faculty for twenty-five years. At the institute, she continues to conduct seminal research on the changing workforce and changing family. Her more than forty books and reports include Ask the Children: The Breakthrough Study That Reveals How to Succeed at Work and Parenting and the now-classic The Six Stages of Parenthood. She has received numerous honorary degrees and awards, including the 2004 Distinguished Achievement Award from Vassar College. She served as the elected president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and was elected a fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources in 2005. She holds a Master of Science degree in child development and education from Bank Street College of Education and a Bachelor of Arts degree in child study from Vassar College. A popular keynote speaker, she was a presenter at the White House Conference on Child Care in 1997 and on Teenagers in 2000. She is featured regularly in the media, including appearances on Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Ellen Galinsky is co-founder and president of the Families and Work Institute in Manhattan. A leading authority and speaker on work/family issues, she was on the faculty at Bank Street College of Education for twenty-five years and she has authored sixteen books. She lives with her family in upstate New York.

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