Chapter 14: Family Structure and Maternal Employment: What’s the impact?

Submitted by: Karen Stowe

From Chapter 14 The Child in Context: Family Structure, Child Care, and Media

concept map chapter 14

What constitutes a family has evolved from the nuclear family of a married mother and father and their children to many different family structures.  However, the most common is still the nuclear family with two-thirds of all children residing in this family situation (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).  Other family structures can contribute to negative child outcomes if protective factors are not available.

In non-nuclear family structures there is greater potential for problems to arise with children.  Issues such as externalizing, medical, attachment, internalizing, and academic problems are common for children in divorced, single-parent, teen mother, cohabiting, and stepfamilies.  Problems in divorced or single-parent families can be due to inadequate resources including time to spend with children and money (Scott, DeRose, Lippman, and Cook, 2013).  Some of these problems can be compounded by other mediating circumstances associated with the family structure, such as conflict, poverty, instability and family dynamics (Kim, 2008) Instability in particular has been shown to negatively affect a child’s well-being in the short and long term (Nauert, 2010).  Despite the negative outcomes that are associated with these family structures children are more likely to have positive outcomes if nonresident fathers continue to be involved and parenting quality is high (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).

While family structure absolutely affects child outcomes, parenting quality has a greater impact.  Children who live with parents who use authoritative parenting are more likely to avoid negative outcomes even if their family structure is atypical.  While parenting quality is more important than family structure in determining child outcomes, it is often influenced by family structure (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).

Teachers cannot influence family structure , but they can provide protective factors for children.  In order to help children, teachers can provide the following supports:

  • Be an alternate attachment figure.
  • Teach students social and emotional skills.
  • Helps students experience success in the classroom by developing academic skills.
  • Use authoritative classroom management.
  • Involve parents in education, particularly at the school level.

As family structures have changed so has the role of the mother within the family.  With more two income families and more single parent households more mothers work at least part time.  Maternal employment has an impact on child outcomes.   The effect on the child depends on many factors involving the mother and her job.  Children are more likely to have positive outcomes associated with their mother working if the family is able to leave welfare, the mother is single, the mother believes it is good for her children, and she spends more nonwork hours with her children.  Certain situations can lead to negative outcomes such as the mother being middle class, working long hours, working before her children reach age 3, finding work unrewarding, or having a low quality job (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).

It is important to recognize the impact of family structure and maternal employment on a child in your classroom.  Non-nuclear families and certain maternal employment situations can increase risk factors for children involved, which can increase problems for those children.  Providing those children with the appropriate protective factors will help lead them to favorable outcomes.


Bergin, C. A., & Bergin, D. A. (2012). Cognitive Ability: Intelligence, Talent and Achievement. Child and Adolescent Development In Your Classroom. Australia: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Kim, K. (2008). Academic Success Begins at Home: How Children Can Succeed in School. The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved from:

Nauert, R. (2010). Loss of Traditional Family Structure Affects Kids’ Wellbeing. Psychcentral. Retrieved from:

Scott, M., DeRose, L., Lippman, L., and Cook, E. (2013). Two, One, or No Parents? Mapping Family Change and Child Well-being Outcomes. Child Trends

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some strategies that you have used to get parents involved in their child’s education?
  2. How has your own family structure impacted yourself or your children?
  3. What are some strategies you have used to work with children who are struggling with their family structure?
  4. Do you know of children who based on their family structure could have problems, but are doing well? Why do you believe they are doing well?
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12 Responses to Chapter 14: Family Structure and Maternal Employment: What’s the impact?

  1. Michelle Peterson says:

    I have used many strategies to get parents involved in their children’s education. Sometimes I have students help me lead a conference with their parents and I have the child share the struggles and successes they are experiencing. This really helps the parents take what I am saying and generalize it to what their child is experiencing.
    My own family structure has impacted me in many ways. I was raised in a home with both my parents and siblings under one roof. Eventually, ((later) my parents divorced. Most of my childhood my parents were unhappy. I raise my children with the understanding that we all care about each other’s happiness and we do whatever it takes to be there for one another and support each other (something that was missing from my home).
    Some things I do with students that struggle with their family structure is to make social stories that share different kinds of home-life situations. I think it helps kids to see that every family is unique and it is okay to have a different structure.
    I do have one student whom lives in a chaotic household, but is mostly successful. I believe that although the schedule causes family relationships to be strained, the value of education has been instilled in this student. He has goals and he works to meet them because those around him still support what he is doing at school. Home life is a bit stressed with parents working two jobs, but he still get his homework done daily. It is refreshing to see that.

  2. Andrea says:

    Do you know of children who based on their family structure could have problems, but are doing well? Why do you believe they are doing well?

    I have taught for 18 years and have always been fascinated how students who experience similar circumstances can respond so differently. Resiliency is such a key factor in students who are able to rebound from traumatic situations. I know a family that the father has been verbally/emotionally abusive to the kids, as well as physically abusive to their mom. Both children have grown up and are now navigating their way successfully through college. I spoke with their mom at length and she felt that the strong relationships that her children made with kids from school, church and family members were one of the reasons that her children were able to live through their stressful home life and maintain positive attitudes. Their mother also made sure that she was there for her children at home, school functions and extra-curricular activities. She also mentioned that she was very thankful that her kids did not believe that their fathers actions/behaviors was their fault and felt that was another reason for their positive attitude. We are taught that positive relationships is a very important factor in resilience. It appears that in this family the children were able to form positive relationships with people outside of their home which contributed to their resilience and ability to bounce back from adverse situations in the home.

  3. Amanda Morris says:

    What are some strategies you have used to work with children who are struggling with their family structure?

    I immediately think of a little boy that struggled all year before he was finally able to get special services because of his family instability. The first thing I did was build a relationship with the boy that was very similar to a parent. I held my standards high, even when the boy rebelled. I remained calm, predictable, and stable (even though he tested my ability to do so!). Although the boy still had behavior problems, they were extremely lower in my classroom than they were with other teachers. Even when he misbehaved and had consequences, his anger never stemmed towards me. I spoke with him about how he was starting out his day, his lunch time reflections, and overall feelings at the end of the day. Often, talking with him in the morning helped him sort out his feelings about a fight in the car with his mom, or someone being kicked out of the house, and even him catching his mom lying to him. We had a lot of talks about how lying isn’t right, why people do it, and what actions he should take. That was the hardest part, watching this autistic kid try to reason why he was being treated the way he was by ones he loved, and also trying so hard to improve his behavior. Although I have moved districts, I have recently talked with his new teacher and he is getting a lot of much needed support and is on a positive path. I hope others take the time to let this boy in their heart and help him through his educational and moral struggles.

  4. Jimmie Jo says:

    How has your own family structure impacted yourself or your children?

    This is an interesting question to think about and answer. My husband and I have very different families. One of the only ways that our childhoods were similar is that we were raised with both our mother and father in the home. Our mothers both stayed home and raised the children. My home was in which we (I have 2 sisters and a brother) were encouraged, but not forced to be involved in extra-curricular activities in school. Doing well in school was expected. My parents had 2 children for which school came easy, and 2 children who struggled. We were always expected to do our own personal best. Two of us went to college and continued our education. Two joined the work force. All 4 of us are married and have raised our children in 2 parent homes. My husband’s family was the opposite of my own. They were not allowed to be involved in extra-curricular activities at school. In fact, they were expected to get a job to help support the family. School was not a priority. His parents never asked or cared if homework was completed. Their achievements in school were not acknowledged or celebrated. His dad did not attend his graduation. My husband’s parents did teach them to work hard and be leaders. They all have very high problem solving abilities. My husband is the only one of his siblings to raise his children in a 2 parent home. None of them went to college. However, they all have jobs in which they are the supervisor.

    How have these 2 very different family structures impacted my children? I think that we have tried to blend the best parts of our families to structure our own. Education is very important in our household. As long as the girls keep up their grades, they are willing to choose their own extracurricular activities as long as they don’t become too busy to spend time with the family. We do expect for our girls to be hard workers. They are a huge help in the running of our farm. They probably have more responsibility than most kids their age. We don’t know how they will “turn out” yet, but they have been great kids so far. I did not choose to stay home with my girls like my mother did. I have never felt guilty about it or regretted it. Teaching is part of who I am. It makes me a better person and a better mother. All 3 of the girls are now in school, WITH me. I hope that the happiness that I have with my career will help to inspire them to find what will truly make them happy in life.

    • anonymous50 says:

      What are some strategies you have used to work with children who are struggling with their family structure?

      After establishing clear boundaries and expectations, which I adhere to in what I hope is a fair and consistent manner, and utilizing authoritative, rather than authoritarian, discipline, the first and most important strategy I use is to actively work at building trust and respect with the student, which I then hope facilitates the sharing of honest feelings, without fear of remonstration or judgment from me. To that end, I take a personal interest in the successes, academic and personal, of my students and foster an atmosphere of mutual encouragement, rather than competition, in my classroom – excepting, of course, our “Diagramming Wars”, but even those, while competitive, are a group activity that is predicated upon cooperation and encouraging one another toward success. One specific strategy that I use for establishing a better understanding of my students’ struggles and which sets the stage for forging an ‘alternate attachment’ relationship is to take advantage of the thematic content of our literature to specifically tailor writing assignments in such a way as to allow students to vent their feelings or opinions without my having to be overtly intrusive. Their writing is a safe venue in which to express themselves, as I am the only one who reads the papers, and it also provides an avenue for feedback or commentary from me (e.g.., “I can see that [this] is worrying you. I think it’s impressive that you [whatever].”), while allowing them control of the level of emotional distance that makes them comfortable. These exchanges established through their writing often evolve into conversations, initiated by them, which then grow naturally into the quality of relationship they need or desire at that time.

  5. Drew Ibendahl says:

    What are some strategies that you have used to get parents involved in their child’s education?

    At the beginning of the year, I make sure I call the home of each of my students and try to talk to a parent or guardian of each student to relay a positive message about their son or daughter and welcome them to the classroom. Many times, I feel parents want to be involved, but do not know how to get involved or they are intimidated by the school system and do not feel comfortable being involved in the education of their child/children. By making that phone call, I am hoping that I start the year off on the right foot with parents, easing some of the tension that may be present. When talking to parents, I offer suggestions to help their child at home, but always look for feedback from them and suggestions for motivation or ways they are able to best teach their children at home. I want the parents of my students to understand I truly value them as a member of a team with their child’s best interests in mind. Frequently throughout the year, I invite my classroom parents to school for a luncheon with the students where we discuss topics we are studying and ways parents can help at home. I always encourage parents to come into the classroom to help with centers or group projects we are working on throughout the year. I know that lack of educational materials in the home hinder many parents from helping their children. When this is the case, I do what I can to provide parents with any materials I can. If I am unable to provide materials for parents, I help parents locate resources through other avenues. Of everything I do, I feel the mutual respect I show the parents/guardians of my students is one of the best ways I can encourage them to take that first step into the classroom and into their child’s education.

  6. Leslie says:

    What are some strategies that you have used to get parents involved in their child’s education?

    I think involving parents in their child’s education is one of the most important things you can do. There are several things that I do to help with that. First, we have meet the teacher before school starts. During that time, I talk to each family and invite them to be a part of their child’s education. I also make available several opportunities where parents can sign up to volunteer and help in the classroom. One thing that family members can do is sign up to be a mystery reader. A mystery reader comes in every Friday to read a book to the class and be a guest for a couple of hours. Parents and students both love it! Also, parents can volunteer to help with class parties, projects and other events. Every Monday, my class performs a readers theater play. I invite parents in to watch.

    I send a newsletter home every Monday to help parents see what we are working on in class and how they can help at home. Each time we do a science experiment, I send directions home so they can do it again with their parents at home. At the beginning of each math unit, I sent a letter home about the chapter with games, activities and lessons parents can do at home to help. I send home a lot of at home activities intended for parents to help their child with.

    Our class has a Facebook page this year. I have had a lot of parents comment that they love it because they can see what we are doing in class and it keeps them in the loop. My school has family night a couple of times each semester. Parents are invited to come to school and do activities similar to what we are doing in class.

  7. Nicole Gaffney says:

    What are some strategies that you have used to get parents involved in their child’s education?

    First of all, I love your idea Leslie about sending home ideas for math games and activities at the beginning of the unit. I also agree with Drew in that calling home at the beginning of the year is a great way to get parents involved and offers them a warm welcoming.

    In my classroom, I also send a newsletter home every week. I share about what we learned the week and some activities that parents can do help their kids at home. I also like to share some ways that they can listen to their child to allow their child more opportunities to talk. I share articles with them, positive advice and encouraging words. The newsletter also provides a “Homework Calendar”, with 5-10 minute reinforcement activities. However this is optional as I communicate that their number one priority is to read every night. This allows the busy parents an opportunity to feel involved as well as those who have time to do homework a chance to reinforce what we learn in school and set a routine for homework.

    I am also hosting a “Learn to be a Better Reading Coach” night at my school for parents who would like to learn how to help their child in reading. I am working alongside our Literacy Coach for the district to come up with some quick, effective strategies parents can do at home. Much like our book, I have some parents who cover up the pictures when working with their child and use other frustrating techniques. These parents want to help, but need more information on how to become a better coach. This is the first year we are doing this, so I hope we get a big turn out!

  8. Katie Williams says:

    What are some strategies you have used to work with children who are struggling with their family structure?
    Being in a school made of primarily low SES students, I see how family structure impacts student learning all the time. Many of the students are surprisingly resilient given the circumstances they face. I think the most important thing that teacher can do is build relationships with students and support them when they need it. Many of my students call me their school mom. Other teachers in the school frown upon this. I choose not to correct them because I understand that they need the stability and comfort I am able to give to them. It is so critical that teachers teach to the whole child, not just to the academic child.

    • Janet says:

      Katie, don’t let those frowns get you down! I agree with you that you have to teach to the whole child and for some of those kiddos, I know you are their rock. Research has shown that kids need an adult to believe in them, encourage them, and support them and you just may be that one adult. Hang in there and keep making a difference!

  9. Sinclair says:

    2. How has your own family structure impacted yourself or your children?
    Great question. My wife never worked again after our children were born. The blessing of having her at home for them far outweighed the loss of income. Our children always knew what a sacrifice we had made for them and never once questioned why they did not have or could not do some things. People I worked with used to call us the Cleavers and it was a great compliment! I saw a study that the disposable income made by two income couples was actually greatly reduced by hidden costs such as outfits, new cars and lunches. Another showed that the majority of mothers actually wanted to not work when children were young and only wanted to work part-time later.

  10. Janet says:

    2.How has your own family structure impacted yourself or your children?

    My husband and I were also raised in very different family situations. I grew up on a farm with 2 parents and a close extended family. We lived in the same house and therefore, I stayed in the same school district. My husband was raised by a single mom and they moved frequently. He attended several different elementary schools and two different high schools. Hearing his story helped me be more empathetic to student situations. It opened up my eyes to a world I wasn’t exposed to and didn’t understand. He has also learned much from my family and has embraced the stability and close relationships that they offer. I think it has also helped our own children recognize that different family structures exist and they have learned compassion for fellow students that may be living in a more difficult situation.

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