Behind the Scenes: My Father Works with Carpet, My Mother Works with Emotion

My Father Works with Carpet, My Mother Works with Emotion: Understanding the Lived Experiences of Children of Student Affairs Professionals

By John Lehman and Stephanie Russell Krebs

So what exactly do you think our kids think we do at work?"  The question brought smiles and laughter among a group of our colleagues one evening at a national conference.  "And wouldn't that be a great conference presentation?"  We sought to answer that question, at first for a presentation, but as the answers got more interesting, for this paper.  Because the work and home lives of student affairs professions often blend (how often do we talk about work-life balance?), it is useful to understand how our children make meaning of the work that their parents do.  We asked, can we help student affairs professionals better understand their profession through the lens of their and their colleagues’ children?  Our results found that our children acknowledge the “learning” moments, perceive the parent as a caring helper, value the importance of relationships, and internalize the bad days of the parent. The title of the article comes from a rather poignant reflection of a daughter of mental health counselor and reminded us that there is great power in understanding ourselves through the unspoiled eyes of our children.  For us the process suggested that while it may take a village to raise a child, it also may take a child for a village to understand itself.  


This interpretative phenomenological analysis study focused on the way that children of student affairs professionals make meaning of their parents’ work. A purposive sample of 11 children at two institutions, ages 8 to 15, was interviewed using a semi-structured interview format. Data were analyzed using an interpretive phenomenological approach, inductively looking for themes to emerge. Results demonstrated that (a) children acknowledge the “learning” moments, (b) children perceive the parent as a caring helper, (c) children value the importance of relationships, and (d) children internalize the bad days of the parent. The results of this study launch a new body of research on the intersection between student affairs work and parenting. Through listening to the voices of children, both professional student affairs practice and work/life coexistence can improve.

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