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Working mums and juggling time pressures

Sad mother with child
Credit: iStock.com/PaulBiryukov

As parents juggle responsibilities at work and home, time pressure has become a ticking time bomb, says Griffith University sociologist Dr Judy Rose.

Dr Rose’s paper — Never enough hours in the day: Employed mothers' perceptions of time pressure — explores the concept of mother's guilt and the perception of time as mothers juggle work and family commitments.

“Mother guilt is a phenomenon many women with children experience when they feel they are not living up to society's unrealistic expectations of what a 'good' mother should be,” Dr Rose says.

“The reason mother guilt is more common than father guilt, is that women are still considered primarily responsible for the care of children.

“Time pressure is just one of the many pressures parents face. It is particularly a problem for parents that combine paid work with care responsibilities, and this includes parents who work part-time.

“As most families today are dual income earning, time pressure has become a ticking time bomb that has negative impact on mental and physical health as well as relationships.”

Dr Rose’s study interviewed women about a typical day in their households to help researchers understand the number and types of time demands women were responsible for and provide an overall gauge of time pressure.

Women were asked if they felt they had enough time to meet the demands, and to describe the strategies they used to manage their time pressure.

One common strategy was multitasking, however the study found it seemed to increase time pressure rather than reduce it.

“Mothers multi-task within and across the work and home context. This is often called 'juggling' and it is a struggle for mothers to keep all the balls in the air. Work, family, domestic work - all take time,” Dr Rose says.

“Multi-tasking is a very intense form of time use. It is cognitively demanding and can be quite exhausting if done for long periods. It may be seen as an efficient form of time use, but it seems to increase pressure and stress rather than reduce it.”

As most families today are dual income earning, time pressure has become a ticking time bomb that has negative impact on mental and physical health as well as relationships.
Dr Judy Rose

Dr Rose says another strategy is women involving their partners in housework or childcare tasks, but that many women described their husbands as “helpers” rather than as initiators of tasks.

“Social norms still expect mothers to take primary responsibility for the home domain - including child care and housework,” Dr Rose says.

“This silent expectation means that women often delegate tasks for their husbands to do or help with. Men, generally speaking do not initiate housework - with the exception of cooking and yard work.

“Despite women increasing workforce participation they still take responsibility for caring about family. This means co-ordinating child care and work schedules, health appointments, extra-curricular activities of children etc.

“This mental load or 'thinking about' family, even when at work, is exhausting for women.

“It is 'invisible' work women have done for centuries and continue to do.”

Dr Rose says there is huge value in fathers bonding with their infants and young children.

These include benefits for the child who will do better with their social, emotional and cognitive skills throughout life and benefits for the father who will form a closer emotional attachment with their child, and be more tuned into their needs.

She says ultimately this leads to benefits for mothers who will be relieved of time pressure when fathers can confidently and competently take care of children. These benefits then extend to society as a whole.

Dr Rose says that while it is often women who take up the offer of paid parental leave or flexible leave arrangements to care for children, these options need to be destigmatised for men.

“Policy makers need to better recognise the effort and cost of the invisible work women do for family from what I call the 'time management control centre' of the home.

“While workplaces have become much better at offering flexibility at work for women, this same flexibility is rarely taken up by men.

“This needs to change for it to become a more equitable situation of shared care by parents.

“Men need good role models at work, such as managers or bosses who use these options and encourage their male staff to do so.

“Fathers now have a two week Dad and Partner Pay - but these need to be longer to really get men involved in child care from birth.”