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The difficult balance between work and family and the quality of paternal involvement in childcare

A study carried out by researchers from ISPA and Iscte highlights how the perception of work-family relationships is related to fathers' involvement in childcare, emphasizing how parenting styles play a crucial role in this dynamic.


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Balancing work and family demands is one of the main challenges of contemporary parenting. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), men's participation in childcare is much lower than women's, and Portugal is one of the European Union (EU) countries with the greatest gender disparity in this area. As a result, the task of reconciling parental and professional activities turns out to be particularly difficult for mothers, due to the conflicts that can arise during this process. With a very high percentage of women in the labor market (according to the CIG - Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality, women represent 49.7% of people in employment), the father's contribution to this balance becomes necessary. However, fathers face greater difficulties, compared to mothers, in accessing flexible working hours or family-friendly employment policies, limiting their availability for day-to-day care.


Focusing on parents' perspectives and experiences, researchers Eva Diniz (ISPA), Lígia Monteiro (CIS-Iscte) and Manuela Veríssimo (ISPA), explored how conflict/gains in work-family relationships impact their involvement in childcare in the early years of life, and how their parenting styles play an important role in this process. This issue is particularly relevant in Portugal since, according to 2019 data, 62% of children have both parents employed full-time, often with inflexible working hours.


According to the authors of this study, parents who perceive more gains in the work-family relationship reported greater involvement in direct care (for example, bathing the child) and indirect care (for example, buying clothes for the child), using more positive parenting styles, that is, through affection, and non-coercive and responsive discipline, setting clear limits in interactions with the child. On the other hand, parents who perceive more conflict/stress report involvement in direct care, but use negative parenting styles, i.e. little affection, recurrent punitive or coercive discipline and strict control or, on the contrary, no clear standards of limits in interactions with the child. According to the researchers, negative experiences in the work-family balance can lead to a lack of physical and emotional energy, limiting fathers' ability to get involved in care activities, negatively impacting the quality of interactions with their children. In short, the results show that positive experiences of reconciling work and family activities are essential for broadening involvement in childcare tasks and promoting a positive parenting experience, while negative experiences of work-family balance are detrimental to the quality of parenting.


"This study is important because it focuses on the parents' perspective, considering how parents are involved in the family, but also the quality of that involvement. On the other hand, it considers not only the potential stress/conflict, but also the gains that can be associated with playing roles inside and outside the family system," explained Lígia Monteiro (CIS-Iscte).

According to the authors, when the balance between the demands of work and family is perceived as positive, professional activities become easier due to the experiences, skills and opportunities acquired at home, or vice versa, and the relationship is enriching. In conclusion, understanding these dynamics is essential to developing policies and practices that promote strategies to reduce work-family conflict, encouraging and contributing to greater parental involvement in childcare.


 

This text was written by Sercileyne Nascimento, a student on the Master's Degree in Community Psychology, Protection of Young People and Children at Risk (Iscte) as part of her internship at CIS-Iscte.

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