Working Parents Who Use No Childcare: How Do They Do It?

Working Parents Who Use No Childcare: How Do They Do It?

Media release — 30 June 2008

Some working Australian parents with very young children work and care for their children in shifts, whilst many self-employed and part time mothers of infants work and take care of their children.

Analyses of data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, featured in the latest edition of the Australian Institute of Family Studies Family Matters, examines factors associated with parent only care in families with an infant, in which both parents work.

So called ‘shift parenting’ occurs most in dual-working couples when either parent works on weekends or in the evening.

In other working couple families – when the mother works short hours or is self-employed – families often manage with no childcare.

But ‘shift-parenting’ does not explain how all these families use parent only care. In these families it appears that the mother often manages this work around caring for children.

The study finds one-third of babies are in parent-only care when both parents are employed, and of these using parent-only care, only 53% of fathers regularly cared for their infant child on their own.

Institute Deputy Director and study co-author Dr Matthew Gray said it was not accurate to assume that childcare responsibilities are always shared when both parents are employed.

“Mothers of infants are undertaking paid employment – often part time or self employment – without the use of non-parental childcare,” Dr Gray said.

“For these working mothers, it appears that caring of children is managed around mothers’ work time.

“While decisions by mothers to work short hours can have long term implications for the mother’s future employment prospects and financial security, we also need to recognise that part time or reduced work might be a better option than no work at all.

“Furthermore, many mothers may have taken the decision that spending time with their children when they are very young is best for their family,” Dr Gray said.

Key findings of the study are:

  • In families with infant children where both parents were employed, 33% used parent only care.
  • Breastfeeding is a factor in parent-only care, as families with both parents employed were more likely to use parent-only care when the child was being breastfed.
  • The younger the infant the more likely the family were to use parent only care
  • Families were more likely to use parent only care when the mother worked short hours (under 16 hrs per week) or was self employed. 
  • In these cases, there was no greater father involvement in care than in other families.
  • Parent-only care was more likely when mothers or fathers worked on weekends or nights/evenings. Fathers were more likely to provide care in these families. This suggests ‘shift parenting’ in these families.
  • When mothers were self employed mothers, families were more likely to use only parent care, compared to when mothers were permanently employed.
  • Self employed fathers were less likely to regularly care for their children than fathers who were permanent employees.

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children - an Australian Government initiative led by the Australian Institute of Family Studies – is the first comprehensive study examining the lives of Australian children as they grow up.

Family Matters, no. 79, 2008 - table of contents and abstracts

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