Fitting It All In: The Interplay of Parental Employment and School Engagement
39 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2013
Date Written: December 10, 2013
Although incompatibilities between work and home life are well studied, less is understood about the implications of parents’ employment for another key role: being a “school-engaged parent.” In this paper we examine how employed parents of elementary school students understand expectations for school engagement, and how employment supports and constraints shape that engagement. Using in-depth interviews with 17 employed mothers in a mid-size Midwestern city – recruited from surveys of a racially and socioeconomically mixed sample of 95 parents – we find a shared emphasis on doing “something” rather than “nothing” to be engaged, variation in access to job supports that can facilitate school engagement (such as paid time off and work time and place flexibility), and tradeoffs to using those supports. The research findings advance a line of inquiry in work-life research on the “third role” of community engagement, here the case of parents’ engagement in their children’s schools. Our findings suggest that relegating all non-work, non-home/family activities and roles to a general category of “life” obscures potentially unique opportunities and challenges that different community engagement roles may present. School engagement emerges here as a pressing if variable feature of parents’ daily lives across the occupational and socioeconomic spectrums, one that both influences and is in many ways constructed by their employment conditions.
Keywords: Work-family conflict, maternal employment, workplace flexibility, parent engagement, qualitative research
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