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Illinois Study Discovers The Impact Workplace Stress Has on Parents, Children, and Mealtimes


Mealtimes at home represent an important space for children and their parents or guardians to communicate, socialize, and bond. However, routine meal times are becoming increasingly challenging for busy parents to schedule.  A study conducted by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign aims to better understand the relationship between stress at work, parental mealtime attendance, and how it impacts their children’s development.  (How Parents’, 2023)

“We all struggle to maintain the balance between work life and family life. But this might be especially challenging for parents, who are engaging in childcare after a busy and stressful day at work. And when it comes to co-parenting in dual-earner families, which comprises 65% of families with children in United States, we do not know much about how mothers and fathers share caregiving roles under work stress” – Lead Author Sehyun Ju (How Parents’, 2023)

Over 1,400 dual-income households provided data for the research through a nationally representative survey. From 9 months until kindergarten, the survey examined child development in the family, home, daycare, and classroom settings.  Researchers paid close attention to child characteristics, mealtimes as a family, and how unsatisfied parents are with their jobs or finances. (How Parents’, 2023)

“We found that children of parents who expressed higher work-related stress when the children were 2 years old had lower socioemotional competency at age 4 to 5, measured by lower positive and higher negative social behaviors,” – Sehyun Ju.  (How Parents’, 2023)

This means that the childrens’ social and emotional growth was slowed down due to their parents’ work-life stress. (How Parents’, 2023)

The study found noteworthy differences between mothers’ and fathers’ work related stress and the direct impact it had on their children.  Higher dissatisfaction at work did not affect how often family meal times would happen with mothers’, however it did still show a connection to a decrease in social and emotional development for their children. Fathers under similar work related pressure were less likely to show up to family mealtimes, and also showed to decrease social / emotional competency in their children around ages 4 and 5. (How Parents’, 2023)

“We have to acknowledge the challenges that families face in creating consistent routines. It’s not just an outcome of individual influences. Outside factors, such as parents’ work environment and financial situation can affect their interactions, mealtimes, and child development. For example, dinner time for young kids is typically around five or six o’clock, but the expectation that parents are home early in the day doesn’t align with being an ideal worker. Policy initiatives to help provide a work environment and community support that facilitate family mealtimes would be important.” – Karen Kramer, Co-Author (How Parents’, 2023)


Journal Reference:

  • Sehyun Ju, Qiujie Gong, Karen Z. Kramer. Association of parents’ work-related stress and children’s socioemotional competency: Indirect effects of family mealtimes.. Journal of Family Psychology, 2023; 37 (7): 977 DOI: 10.1037/fam0001147
  • University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. “How parents’ work stress affects family mealtimes and children’s development.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 September 2023. <>.


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