PACT: Parents and Children Together

How do parents experience work and family time? A significant segment of parents in North America wish they had more time for their children and feel high levels of time pressure (Milkie, Nomaguchi and Schieman 2019). Employed mothers feel especially time pressed. These parents are not, however, spending less time in childcare activities than had their predecessors. Indeed, employed mothers are spending more time in childcare than even homemakers did in 1975 (Bianchi et al. 2006). This is one paradox that illuminates the complexities surrounding how mothers and fathers make meaning regarding their time with children in social context.

The Parents and Children Together (PACT) research project investigates family time through a grant entitled “Time Together and Apart: Clarifying the Family Time Paradox in Canada and the United States.” This research illuminates the work and social factors that are associated with parental time stress and mental health, through uncovering variations and change over time in forms of parent-child time and quality time with children. 

The PACT project is led by Professor Melissa Milkie as the principal investigator, alongside Professor Irene Boeckmann as co-investigator at the University of Toronto and Professor Liana Sayer of the University of Maryland as a collaborator. This project focuses on three central objectives:  

  1. Determine current factors related to the distribution of parents’ total contact time with children, and the quality of activities, and assess the links of each to time pressure. 
  1. Discover changes over time in parents’ total contact time and in the qualities of time spent with children, especially in relation to rapid and dramatic workplace and technological changes that may have reduced parents’ presence with children, particularly older ones. 
  1. Identify patterns of parents’ time with children, and their reported experiences of time with children based on national context. 

To discover the contours of parents’ time allocations and pressures in 21st-century Canada and the United States, the PACT project analyzes rich, detailed time diary data from parents in Canada and the US, as well as in comparison with select international contexts. This rich and detailed data is framed within stress process theories. Analyses go beyond previous research on time in childcare to detail the everyday lives of parents together with and apart from children and adolescents, and to identify social status differences in the contact time and the qualities of time with children. Using these conceptions of time with children, the PACT project highlights trends in Canada and the U.S., including both long-term trends and recent developments in which technological changes, such as the widespread use of mobile technologies, may have disrupted certain parent-child time. 

Given the upending of work, family and school time during the COVID-19 pandemic, the project has also focused on the meanings of family time from the perspective of fathers, mothers, and young adults.

The PACT project is funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant (2019-2023) on “Time Together and Apart: Clarifying the Family Time Paradox in Canada and the United States.” 

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