The makeup of families has shifted in the the last few decades.
In the U.S., 46% of two-parent families have both parents working full time. With both parents working, tackling family obligations becomes even more of a challenge with the expectation to be constantly connected to the office.
Working parents trying to “do it all” often integrate their children into their work life. They discuss work problems at the dinner table. They bring their children to meetings when there are no other options. They make conference calls on long drives with their kids in the backseat. As a result, children grow up hearing—and understanding—what their parents do for a living in a way that was rare to experience in the past.
But what kind of effect does this have on the children? Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy, thinks that being open about your work can be valuable, but complaining too much to your children can leave a bad narrative that can have long-term implications. If you’ve ever wondered what your kids really think of you working long hours or missing soccer games because you were traveling abroad for the company, below Fast Company interviewed children of working parents between the ages of 5 and 19:
“I don’t have no idea where my dad works but my mom, she works for people.” –Rosie, 5 years old
Both Rosie and her older brother Zeke want their mom to work at the school they attend together. Rosie knows her parents work while she’s at school, but she knows a little bit more about her mom’s work than her dad’s:
“I don’t have no idea where my dad works but my mom, she works for people.”
When asked if she misses her mom while she’s at work, Rosie replies, “well, she misses me.” Later, Rosie admits she also misses her mom.
“My mom tells me about the people who have problems and my dad tells me about the arguments,” –Zeke, 7 years old
It was Zeke’s idea that his mom should work at his school. He later shared the idea with his sister, Rosie, who agreed that life would be better if mom was always in the same building. Why? “Because then she could take us to school and she could get us from school instead of waiting an hour and 30 minutes until she comes home,” he said. He also mentioned that he has school friends whose moms work at the school. Yet, to no avail, Zeke and Rosie’s mom, Heather, doesn’t seem to be quitting her job any time soon: “She says that she can’t quit her job,” said Zeke. “That’s what she says.”
As for what his parents do while he’s in school, Zeke knows that his “father is a businessman” and his mother is “a psychologist.” He also knows that his mom “works at the Children’s Institute” and on days that he visits, he sees “people with problems.”
“My mom tells me about the people who have problems and my dad tells me about the arguments,” explained Zeke when asked what his parents tell him about their jobs.
When it comes to jobs, Zeke considers a J-O-B “a career” and describes a career as “when you pick a job and then you do it and then you get money back for doing what you did. And then you do it for a long time.”
He does think that people sometimes change jobs, like his dad did when he transitioned from a lifeguard to a businessman.
Zeke’s and Rosie’s parents are Heather and Jonah Ufberg. Heather is the director of the psychology department at the Children’s Institute, a rehabilitation hospital, and Jonah works in financial analysis for a bank in downtown Pittsburgh.
“Dad works for money and mom works for doctor.” –Peyton, 6 years old
Every weekday morning, Peyton’s dad takes him to school at 8:40 a.m. and his babysitter picks him up at the end of his school day.
His parents get home “sometimes at 9, sometimes 7:30, sometimes 8.” Peyton says he doesn’t miss his parents when they’re gone, but he does want to get the same job his dad has when he gets older, which is to ‘work for money.” He says his mom “works for doctor.”
Peyton describes work as when you go “out to work,” but admits that “some people work at home maybe because they don’t want to work somewhere.” Peyton named his babysitter as someone who works from home.
Peyton’s parents are Kim Nichols and Chris Cabanillas. Kim is a dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon based in Greenwich, CT and dad is an attorney specializing in real estate, foreclosure defense, and immigration law with offices around NY, NJ, and CT.
“The thing I don’t like about my mom’s job is that all her work takes up a lot of time to spend with me.” –Trace, 7 years old
Trace’s mom’s job has taken the family all over the world from Mexico to Atlanta to Ghana and now, New York for the past three years. Trace wishes they’d move back to Atlanta.
When asked about his mom’s company Tastemakers Africa, which curates trips through suggestions from local influencers, Trace says “Tastemakers Africa is a company that likes to taste food and go to Africa.” He doesn’t consider his mom’s role as CEO and founder “a job” because a job, according to Trace, is “when you work for someone that has their own company.”
The 7-year-old’s biggest problem with his mom working is that it takes her away from him: “The thing I don’t like about my mom’s job is that all her work takes up a lot of time to spend with me,” he said. Instead, Trace would rather they spend their time at Toys-R-Us and Chuck-e-Cheese.
When he grows up, Trace wants to be a scientist—”the kind of scientist my mom was,” he said—or a doctor. He thinks people have jobs “so they can get money for their families,” but he wouldn’t mind it if his mom got married and stopped working so that she could spend more time with him.
“I’m happy that they’re making friends and getting money.” Jackson, 7 years old
Jackson is sad when his parents are at work, but he’s “happy that they’re making friends and getting money.” According to this 7-year-old, people need money “to buy houses and buy furniture and go to restaurants and [buy] food.”
As for his parents’ jobs: “My mom helps people get jobs. My dad works for Verizon and he helps people get phones, TVs, and iPads.”
Jackson’s parents are Tonya Lain, regional vice president at Adecco Staffing USA and Ken Lain, VP National Operations, Verizon
“A job is something that someone works on…well, to collect money for their families.” — Levi, 9 years old
According to Levi, a job is “something that someone works on, a place that…well, to collect money for their families.” He knows his dad works for the IRS, but isn’t sure “what that does.” He says he’s not sure if his mom has a job, but she did have a job “hiring babysitters for people.”
“My dad is always really serious about his job, he’s always on his computer when I try to talk to him about it.” — Timea, 11 years old
At 11 years old, Timea—Levi’s sister—is already involved in politics and is an inspiring entrepreneur.
“I’m the president of my school right now so there’s a lot of things that I’m doing,” she explained. “I’m going to make a business soon. I’m going to make a dog-walking business. ”
When it comes to her mom’s work, Timea knows quite a bit:
“Well, my mom does many different things. Right now, she is working on a website with online courses. She’s working in a couple of other places, but I’m not exactly sure where the other places are. She’s had a history working with First Ladies and she’s…I’m not sure if she has a title of not.”
Just like her younger brother Levi, Timea knows her dad works for the IRS, but assures me “he’s not one of those tax collectors or anything.”
“My dad is always really serious about his job, he’s always on his computer when I try to talk to him about it,” she says. “I ask him and he always says, ‘everyone thinks the IRS is really bad, but for the most part, it’s good.’ He tells me, ‘I have to go to work. I have to check everything.’”
“When I was younger I just thought [my parents] just worked,” she says. “Later on, I knew it was about money so then I tried to make money, but it was hard. I always helped with lemonade stands. That was when I was little. Now I think about my future more.” She’s told her mom she wants to be president of the United States before, but she also wants to be a chef and open up her own restaurant.
Timea and Levi’s mom is Cora Neumann, founder of Global First Ladies Alliance. Cora formerly oversaw policy and women’s initiatives at Care.com and worked at the U.S. State Department alongside Hillary Clinton. Their dad works for the IRS in international tax.
“Whatever I end up doing I definitely want some flexibility.” — Matt, 15 years old
A few months ago, Matt and a school friend had an idea for a Minecraft server business. Matt asked his mom, Carol, for funds to get the website off the ground. She, in turn, asked her son to come up with a presentation that showcased the objective, how much funds were needed, what the money would be used for, and how they could grow the business.
The idea became Matt’s up-and-running Minecraft server.
Because of both of his parents focus in business, Matt says he’s really motivated to learn more about business and has given him “an idea of what the business world is like for the future.”
Whatever he plans on doing once he finishes school, Matt says he definitely wants “some flexibility.”
“Back when my mom worked for Trend Micro, it used to be a bit of a pain because she was always traveling, in different countries and she wasn’t home a lot,” he says. “What I like about her working at ElasticBox is she has more flexibility in her schedule so she can go to things like my track meet and other events. It makes things a little nicer now that she’s around more.
“I don’t necessarily want to do something similar, but I guess it gives me reassurance that if I want to do something risky, it’d be OK.”–Lynn, 17 years old
Lynn’s surrounded by entrepreneurs. Her mom, Chan, is the founder and CEO of Zuga Medical, a dental implant startup, and her sister, Anne, is the founder and CEO of Dollop, Inc., which allows users to send gifts in a snap.
While she admits that it’s hard that her mom travels to China every few weeks for business and “it’d be nicer if she were here with me” during her senior year, Lynn does think the entrepreneurial spirit has instilled confidence within her.
“[My mom and sister are] both in risky businesses, I guess,” she says. “I don’t necessarily want to do something similar, but I guess it gives me reassurance that if I want to do something risky, it’d be OK because they both do it.”
At this point, Lynn doesn’t think she wants to become an entrepreneur.
Lynn’s mom is Chan Wang, founder and CEO of Zuga Medical and her sister is Anne Jiao, founder and CEO of Dollop, Inc.
“I always had a strong female influence. I was always taught that I would be able to accomplish anything.” –Sydney, 19 years old
Born in Japan, Sydney was raised by a single mom who worked in the tireless finance sector. Nonetheless, Sydney says her mom always dropped her off for school, picked her up, and even stopped by her preschool on occasion to eat lunch with her daughter.
“She never wanted me to have a babysitter,” says Sydney. “She always wanted me to know that she’s my mom … it created a really strong bond between us. She’s my best friend.”
Much from her mom’s teachings and examples, Sydney believed “gender has never been a barrier” from a young age. She attributes this attitude to why she’s pursuing mechanical engineering at Northwestern University, a male-skewed profession, and doesn’t feel intimidated.
“I’ve had a lot of female friends who had to struggle to find role models to look up to,” says Sydney. “They’ll have stay-at-home moms or they have the New York City moms who go to the gym and spa.”
“I’ve never had that problem,” she adds. “I always had a strong female influence. I was always taught that I would be able to accomplish anything. And that striving not for perfection, but rather the best that I could do was the most important thing.”
Sydney’s mom’s love for numerics passed on to her daughter. One of Sydney’s fondest memories involving numbers took place on the playground as a young child:
“I would do my multiplication table to get pushed on the swing,” she says, “and if I got them right, I’d get pushed higher. I was always very good at math. I’ve been double checking her math, her checkbook since I was 11.”
Sydney’s mom is Stacy Marcus, a financial consultant and wealth advisor who formerly worked for AIG, Goldman Sachs, and Deutsche Bank.
“It’s always been really awesome seeing my mom work. She’s inspirational.” — Alexa, 19 years old
From as far back as she could remember, Alexa’s mom has always worked.
“I always thought that women should work and my mom has always been able to manage staying on top of us, our lives but also have her own life,” says Alexa. “I always thought that was important and she always stressed that that was important.”
In fact, Alexa’s mom was so good at “balance,” it’s never felt to Alexa that she took a backseat to her mom’s work. And she’s proud to call her mom a working mother:
“It’s always been really awesome seeing my mom work because a lot of my friends’ parents don’t work. And she’s inspirational. She knows all these really cool women who do work … I’ve received the benefits of that also. I’ve met some really cool people.”