Are Children More Anxious When Moms Work Nights?

Parents who work must juggle the responsibilities of home and career. For single parents, this task is even more arduous, as there is not another parent in the home to assist with household or parenting tasks. Although many individuals are fortunate enough to find employment that mimics the typical workday, many others must take jobs that require non-traditional work schedules, including weekends, evenings, and nights. Because a parent plays a significant role on a child’s development, it would be beneficial to know if and how work schedules affect children, especially those already at risk for behavior and emotional issues.

Rachel Dunifon of the Department of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University in New York recently conducted a study that looked at how mothers’ nighttime work schedules affected their children. She based her research on a sample of 2,367 low-income mothers and their preschool-age children who were part of a larger study called the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Survey. Dunifon said, “Overall, we found evidence suggesting modest positive associations between exposure to maternal night shift work and children’s aggressive and anxious behavior.”

In particular, the results revealed that children of mothers who worked nights were more likely to be anxious or aggressive than those whose mothers did not work full-time night jobs. Aggression was especially increased in children of night-working mothers compared to standard daytime-shift mothers. The night-working mothers’ children also were demonstrated higher levels of depression than children of mothers who worked other shifts. Non-working mothers’ children had the lowest levels of anxiety when compared to the children of night working mothers. Medicaid status, marital status, maternal education, and other factors that contribute to developmental risks did not affect the findings. Also, the increases in negative outcomes were the same for all children with night-working mothers, regardless of whether the children were boys or girls. Dunifon believes her results open up an avenue of research that should be explored more fully and should include examination of paternal work effects on children as well as moderating factors.

Dunifon, R., Kalil, A., Crosby, D. A., & Su, J. H. (2013, January 7). Mothers’ night work and children’s behavior problems. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031241

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  • brandi a

    January 21st, 2013 at 4:52 AM

    This kind of schedule is always going to be hard on children, but so is a schedule that is kind of like a normal one but where a parent still doesn;t see the kids all the time. I think that parents who work like this are doing the best that they can with the situation that they have been given. At least they have a job and are trying to make a better life for their families! I am against leaving the children at home alone all night because that is never going to be a safe option, but if you have someone you can depend on who can watch out for the kids and help to take care of them then if this is your only option to keep a roof over your head then I guess that you have to do it. It may not be the ideal but working when the kids are young never really is but it is a reality that most of us have to live with.

  • Diedra

    January 21st, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    A very timely article. I was considering taking a second or third shift position as my husband is more than capable of taking care of our 14 and 10 year old children. However, maybe I need to rethink this. As long as we are able to pay the bills, it looks like I should wait it out. I guess there’s plenty of time for vacations after the kids are gone.

  • Ed F

    January 21st, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    I am surprised the marital status of the mother isn’t important. If there is a dad around who is involved and tuned in wouldn’t the kids be okay?

  • Fidora

    January 21st, 2013 at 11:21 AM

    Just wondering if this is another chicken/egg scenario. ARe the kids aggressive cause their moms are working and they are anxious or are they aggressive because the types of mom who have to work all night are they types that have to live in low income housing. They have kids who are exposed to a lot more violence and street behavior like gangs and drugs. Maybe that is what is making those kids anxious and aggressive rather than their moms working all night. just a thought.

  • G Johnson

    January 21st, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    So is it better for mama to get a job working at night? Or is it better htat she sit at home and get welfare? I’d like to see that study.

  • Gonzalo C.

    June 12th, 2015 at 8:24 AM

    If at all possible get a day job and be there for your child evenings and night. If its only a night job you can get then unfortunately that’s what has to be done, work nights. They are not saying to stay home and collect welfare!

  • Frank

    January 21st, 2013 at 3:48 PM

    So let’s let them work and start some kind of national day care system. Does that work?

  • Anthony

    January 22nd, 2013 at 12:05 AM

    The time parents and especially mothers spend with young children is very important.Now when they do go in for that night job not only are they absent when its bed time for the child but also return exhausted in the morning.The child is up in the day but the mother has to catch some sleep time.That can create a large gap between the mother and child.

    No doubt it affect the child and frankly the child would suffer.Although I do understand that some people may not have an option,I believe spending quality time with your child and maintaining a schedule that suits the child better is far more valuable than the increase that a night job can provide.

  • EGAN

    January 22nd, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    Its has been shown that stay at home moms are much better to have from a child’s point of view, especially at a very young age. While entering the workforce becomes a necessity for some people, care should be taken to see that the impact it has on the child is minimal. And night time work definitely impacts a lot, both to the mother and to the child .mothers doing so need to reassess their priorities.

  • Trenton

    January 22nd, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    I don’t see how this works- moms working nights should mean they are able to spend time with them during the day and go off to work when its time for the child to sleep, isn’t it? how does this become negative??

  • shy

    April 17th, 2015 at 7:06 AM

    I am a night worker and I called in last night because of car trouble and my baby slept so much better just because I was home I wish I could stay home with hime every night

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