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Support for Isolated Mothers

Growing Difficulties in Child-Rearing
Recently, problems in children's development have been highlighted from various perspectives. Newly coined phrases like "classroom collapse (Gakkyu Hokai)", and "children getting out of control" are used, and there is concern about the increase in the number of children who lack discipline and familiarity with basic daily practices. Moreover, in recent years, there has been deep concern regarding the declining numbers of children and attempts have been made to explain this by changes in women's awareness and " loss of maternal instincts". In short, the argument states that women are more educated and only want to work so they are not willing to bear children; and if they do, they are not able to properly take care of them.
We cannot deny that there are various problems regarding child- rearing nowadays. Especially, the rise in the number of women who experience emptiness and irritation during child rearing is conspicuous, and the effect on the children is considerable. However, this should not lead us to conclude that women have lost their ability to raise children. Above all, I would like to point out that seeking the cause in working mothers are exactly the opposite of the actual circumstances. In reality, women would like to participate in society outside the home, but find themselves shut out. Because they feel alienated, frustrated, and useless, they are unable to enjoy child rearing, and at times, children become the target of their frustration. Moreover, it is believed that an increasing number of women are reluctant to marry and have children when they see women around them who are having problems raising children. It will be difficult to solve today's child-raising problems so long as people still believe that mothers should stay home because the biological mother is the best person to raise children. I would like to address this issue based on a recent survey.
Pressure on Mothers
A national survey of about 6,000 Japanese mothers with infants shows that between 80-90% of them answered, "I have a hard time raising children" or "There are times I don't think my child is cute." (Ohinata, 1999). The survey studied full-time housewives, and mothers living in nuclear families with their husbands employed in the private sector. According to the Basic Survey on Work Structure by the General Affairs Department, 70% of mothers whose youngest child was below 3 years of age were unemployed. That is to say, as they are full-time housewives, it can be said that the subjects of the study were fairly representative of the country's average. Also, we should note that the majority complains that "I have a hard time raising children," and "There are times I don't think my child is cute." We may be inclined to interpret this figure to imply "loss of maternal instincts" but if we listen deeply and attentively to what mothers have to say, it is clear that the real problems are "the weight and responsibility of child-rearing" and "isolation from the husband and the society" and not something wherein a solution can be found by simply criticizing the mother.
No time for Oneself
Why do mothers have a hard time raising children? The main reason given is "I have no time for myself." Critics may wonder why it is necessary for mothers raising children to have time for themselves and why they can't be patient during this time. But mothers complain that they would like to be able to take their time in the bathroom or be able to take a long, relaxing bath. The burden of raising children is not light during the child's infant years when the mother has to wake up many times at night or even afterwards when the mother spends 24 hours a day with the child. Moreover, we cannot think that the wish to be able to have private time in the bathroom or bath is a selfish one. When we realize that even a basic sense of relaxation is sacrificed, it is possible to see how much of a burden these mothers are shouldering all by themselves.
Loneliness from Lack of Emotional Bonds with Husband
The lack of cooperation from the husband is one reason for the pressure and loneliness that mothers feel. Recently, the father's role in child rearing has been taken up in the mass media, and this has given many people the impression that more fathers are involved in raising children. However, the number of men who have taken childcare leave is only 0.42% and the reality is that men spend an average of only 10 or so minutes a day raising children on weekdays. There is no big difference in these figures between the households in which the mother is a full-time housewife or those in which the mother is employed. (Bureau of Statistics, Dept. of General Affairs: Basic Survey on Social Life, 1996). To say that men's participation in child rearing is still a mere phenomenon in the mass media or news is not an exaggeration.
Father's participation in the home does not improve because current working hours and the working system are so demanding that they do not permit the father's participation in housework and child rearing. In addition, we can also point out that in the minds of men, child rearing is considered to be the mother's job.
Women, too, especially full-time housewives, express understanding of the husband's working conditions, and feel that it is not possible to expect more cooperation. The majority replied that even though they could not expect him to help with child rearing or housework, they would be satisfied if he would at least extend emotional support. However, when the husband becomes unable to participate adequately in housework and child rearing, there is also little time to communicate with the wife. Much more problematic are husbands who are unaware of the isolation felt by their wives who are not unable to communicate with them and receive emotional support. There are many men who believe that it is natural for mothers to handle the child-rearing responsibilities and that the mother is the best person to raise a young child. These husbands are not able to show concern for wives who suffer the mental and physical burdens of giving undivided attention to child rearing. Wives want husbands to at least understand how difficult child-rearing is, and at times to get a pat on the shoulder for a job well done, but they have no choice but to shut their hearts to insensitive husbands who only criticize, saying, "You're the mother; why can't you raise your own child well? Try to do something about it."
Difficulty of Returning to Society
It is common for women who are raising children to express their desire to work. Since women in the present generation are highly educated, it can be said that this wish to participate in society is, in a sense, a natural desire. In the first place, human beings do not lead isolated lives, but have a social existence. They find a place for themselves in society, wish to contribute by exhibiting their individual strengths and hope to be commended for it. Isn't this kind of feeling natural for human beings? Moreover, in this age, to depend solely on just one person like the husband for all of life's necessities is a huge risk to take. There are not many men who can continuously work without the uncertainty of company bankruptcy or restructuring. If we think of children's education, buying a house, and preparing for retirement, it is becoming necessary for women to work.
In this manner, an increasing number of women want to work even after marriage, for their own self-fulfilment and out of economic necessity. However, companies do not yet have systems that make working and raising children compatible, and the child-care system does not necessarily cater to the needs of parents. Under such circumstances, numbers of women are forced to quit work. Such women cannot help but feel anxiety and panic as they devote themselves to child rearing.
On the other hand, there are many women who have voluntarily chosen to stay at home and raise children. However, even then, once their load gets a bit lighter, they also feel some kind of panic and anxiety about their own lives. Women who are unable to find any hope in life after raising their children turn into so-called "kyoiku mama" (education mothers) in order to forget their anxiety. Devoting one's life to child-rearing does not only shut one out from society, but coupled with this fear of not being able to have a life after child rearing, the mother's feelings of emptiness and panic are aggravated.
A Final Word
I have discussed above a summary of the problems currently faced by full-time mothers. But, this does not mean that working women have no problems raising their children. Also, it is a fact that there are women with infant children who would like to be full-time mothers, and we cannot deny the necessity of respecting their choice. However, if the basis for making such a choice is the notion that the child will be harmed unless the mother remains at home until the child is three, it must be pointed out that this notion is a fallacy. Surely, such a notion only frustrates the support that women need to be able to work and raise children at the same time, and can be seen as the cause of their psychological anguish.
The cross-section research that studied the relation between a mother's work and child development shows that the mother's work does not always have a negative effect on the child. The research clearly shows that it can be positive. We can say that the important point is not simply whether the mother is working or not, but the cooperation of the family and the mother's attitude toward work, as well as the mother's working conditions. These issues go beyond the sphere of the theme I have been asked to take up this time, and also due to constraints on the length of this paper, I am not able to explain this in detail. Refer to the reference materials below for further explanations. (Ohinata, M. 2000, Gottfried, A.E. & Gottfried, A.W. (Eds) 1988.)
Some say, "Child-rearing is a wonderful experience. It is foolish not to give it any thought and to just concentrate on working. Nowadays more attention is given to a woman's independence and the significance of work. Housewives should be respected more, and a woman should take pride in being a housewife." This is true and I do not deny that housework, child rearing, as well as nursing and the like, are jobs performed inside the home, and are very fundamental to daily life. Also, child rearing is not all self-sacrifice and hardship. I think the joy of watching a small child grow up will more than compensate for the difficulty of child rearing. Therefore, in order to share the joy of child rearing, we must improve this situation in which women alone are assigned the job of raising children. Besides fathers, adults who are not the parents should also be involved with children in their own capacity. A society that supports this sort of child rearing is one in which working and social conditions allow people to live and work in an enriching manner. In order to create such a society as soon as possible, I think we should seriously take a second look at the circumstances of women who, left to their own resources, find child raising agonizing and stressful, and as a result, become unable to relate to the child and to the child-rearing process itself.
Reference Materials:

Gottfried, A.E.& Gottfried, A.W. (Eds) 1988, translated by Yasuyuki Sasaki, The Mother's Work and Child Development, 1996, Brain Publication.

Ohinata, M., Kosodate to Deautoki (When Faced with Child-rearing), 1999, NHK Books.

Ohinata M., Boseiai Shinwa no Wana (The Trap of the Myth of Maternal Love), 2000, Nihon Hyoronsha.



Masami Ohinata
Masami Ohinata is Professor of Developmental Psychology and Women`s Studies in the Humanities and Literature Department of Keisen Women`s University. She was born in 1950. B.A., M.A. & Ph.D., Ochanomizu Women's University. Her publications include, Bosei no Kenkyu (The Study of Motherhood), 1988, Kawashima Shoten, Bosei wa onna no kunsho desuka (Is Motherhood a Woman's Award?), 1992, Sankei Shinbunsha, Kosodate to deau toki (When Faced with Child-rearing), 1999, NHK Books, Boseiai Shinwa no Wana (The Trap of the Myth of Maternal Love), 2000, Nihon Hyoronsha, and Kosodate Mama no SOS (SOS from Mothers), 2000, Houken.
Ohinata, Masami (2000). Hahaoya tachi wo koritsu sasenai tame ni (written in Japanese). Tokyo: Child Research Net. Retrieved January 19, 2001, from the World Wide Web.
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