Bring Back Cocktail Hour for Working Parents

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
March 1 2013 3:57 PM

Bring Back Cocktail Hour for Working Parents

110480410
Sasha greets Mom.

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

UCLA researchers Elinor Ochs and Belinda Campos spent three years filming a group of 32 middle-class families with two working parents in order to track their behaviors in a range of ways. The Atlantic has an excerpt of Ochs and Campos’ new book, Fast-Forward Family: Home, Work, and Relationships in Middle-Class America about how children and spouses behave when the mother and father return home from work. Their takeaway was that most children and spouses behave positively when the second spouse comes home from work (usually the dad), but the alternative is not a negative response—it’s being ignored.

In more than half of reunions with their dads, middle-class kids ignored them. In 40 percent of reunions, mom got the cold shoulder. The explanation for this is that the later-returning parent comes home to a house in full swing—kids doing their homework or watching TV, the first spouse making dinner. It matters, the researchers explain, because the lack of positive greeting set the stage for a less happy evening for everyone. “Positive greetings gave way to smooth, rewarding social exchanges, while distraction disappointed the returning parent, which may have contributed to fathers spending less time with other family members on weekday evenings,” Ochs and Campos write.

Advertisement

So what’s the solution? Middle-class families are performing a delicate juggling act, and it doesn’t make sense for many of them to drop everything, Von Trapp-style, and have the kids line up and greet their returning parent with a song. Family dinner also doesn’t make sense for everyone: What about when mom has to work late three nights a week, or Timmy has an away baseball game in another county? The people at home are going to get hungry and cranky, and waiting for the stragglers might not make sense. Furthermore, researchers have discovered that family dinner might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Perhaps the solution, then, is an old-fashioned one: Start up a nouveau cocktail hour. The New York Times suggested somewhat jokingly, in an article about Ochs and Campos’ study from 2010, that in the '50s when men returned from work, a cocktail hour gave everyone a time to relax and unwind in the same room and was a good fit for men’s and women’s different discussion styles. The 2013 version might include junior on a laptop, the other kids eating at the table, and mom coming home late instead of dad, but perhaps if the family knew that every day when parent No. 2 arrived, they would all be sitting and relaxing in the kitchen, it would be easier to jump-start a positive evening together.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Tom Hanks Has a Short Story in the New Yorker. It’s Not Good.

Brow Beat

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 7:13 PM Deadly Advice When it comes to Ebola, ignore American public opinion: It’s ignorant and misinformed about the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 6:32 PM Taylor Swift’s Pro-Gay “Welcome to New York” Takes Her Further Than Ever From Nashville 
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.