Opportunity for interaction? A naturalistic observation study of dual-earner families after work and school

J Fam Psychol. 2009 Dec;23(6):798-807. doi: 10.1037/a0015824.


Everyday patterns of interaction can strengthen or undermine bonds between family members. This naturalistic observation study focused on an understudied facet of family life: opportunities for interaction among dual-earner family members after work and family members' responses to these opportunities. Thirty dual-earner couples and their children were observed and video-recorded in their homes throughout two weekday afternoons and evenings. Two interaction opportunities were analyzed: (1) the behavior of family members toward a parent returning home from work and (2) the physical proximity of family members throughout the evening. Three main findings emerged. Women, who tended to return home before men, were greeted with positive behavior and reports of the day's information from family members. Men, in contrast, returned home later in the day and received positive behavior or no acknowledgment from family members distracted by other activities. Throughout the evening, mothers spent more time with children whereas fathers spent more time alone. Couples were seldom together without their children. The implications of observed interaction patterns and the contribution of naturalistic observation methods to the study of family relationships are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Communication*
  • Economics
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Father-Child Relations*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Observation
  • Parenting*
  • Schools*
  • Social Behavior
  • Time Factors