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Keynote Address 2
Current Situation and Awareness of Working Mothers in Japan

- Based on "Basic Survey on Child Rearing", "Questionnaire on Daily Life of Children", "The General Affairs Agency's Basic Survey on Citizens' Daily Life", and participant questionnaires -

Yuko Takaki
Koriyama Women's University

I believe you are overwhelmed by the enormous amount of data from the United States that Dr. Friedman has just given us. Now, we'll get back to small Japan from huge America.

I will talk about the current state of working mothers in Japan and the way they feel based on the "Basic Survey on Child Rearing" and "Questionnaire on Daily Life of Children" conducted by the Benesse Educational Research Center, as well as responses to the questionnaire submitted by working mothers here today. Please try to listen to what the working mothers close to you have to say.

Figure 1 shows the number of working mothers in Japan. The red area represents households with working couples, and the yellow area represents households in which only the mother works. In total, we see the mother works in 25% of households with children up to the age of two, and in more than 40% of households with children three years of age and above. This means that the mother works in one out of four households, and this indicates that working mothers are not very unusual in Japan.

Now, let us see how those mothers feel about child care.

In Figure 2, full-time and part-time working mothers, as well as full-time housewives were asked how enjoyable child care was for them. The blue section indicates the proportion of those mothers who answered "very enjoyable." Looking at this, the percentage of full-time housewives who find child care to very enjoyable is high. Moreover, if we look at the proportion of mothers who feel that child care is very enjoyable when they are playing with their children or talking about kindergarten or school, we note that the percentage is even higher for those mothers who work full-time.

The first five items in Figure 3 indicate the percentage of those mothers who have positive feelings about child care. The percentage of mothers who feel that raising children has contributed to their self-development was a bit higher among full-time working mothers than among full-time housewives. From the sixth item, the percentage of mothers who feel anxious about child care is shown. In contrast, slightly more full-time housewives feel anxious about child care than other mothers.

Now, most of the people here today work outside the home and I believe that everyday, you feel fulfillment and motivation in their work. There may also be people who disapprove of mothers working outside the home, but do grown-up people who work outside the home and feel fulfillment and motivation in their work have to give this up the moment they become mothers?

Figure 4 shows how full-time housewives and full-time working mothers evaluate themselves. The figures forms a balanced triangle for full-time working mothers. This indicates that the mother's identity is stable. As mentioned in Dr. Friedman's report, if a mother is mentally stable, this is believed to have a good influence on child care.

Figure 5 is based on the participant questionnaire. The responses from working mothers included comments such as: "I would like to raise my child free of worry." "Physical contact is important to me." "Good discipline is also important." "Health is also important." and "I would like to enjoy raising my child." The questionnaire also asked day-care teachers and doctors what they would like mothers to pay more attention to in child care, and their answers tallied with the items and thoughts of mothers.

Seen in this light, it might appear that working mothers, not limited to full-time workers, are not having problems with child care, but it is not the reality. They also have to cope with anxiety and dissatisfaction. Figure 6 asked about problems in child care. Responses included such comments as: "I don't have enough time, and the father is not usually involved." "Child care is stressful." "Why it is that only working mothers are burdened with child care?"

Figure 7 shows the types of child care by age. The blue section indicates the percentage of children receiving child care at home by both parents. The red section indicates cooperation by grandparents. When the child is less than a year old, the grandparents and parents bear the task of caring for the child, but more children are placed in child care centers as they get older.

In some families, the mother is the only parent and she has to handle child care by herself, but in most families there is a father who should cooperate with the mother in child care as a partner. Now, how much is the father involved in housework and child care? When the question "What chores do you want the father to do at home?" was asked in the participant questionnaire, the responses varied from such enviable situations as "My husband does things better than I do, so I am satisfied and have no complaints whatsoever" to " I wish he would take care of his own needs himself."

Figure 8 shows the father's degree of participation in child care and household chores. His degree of participation is low, as we can see. More fathers help with child care and housework in homes where the mother works full-time, but in reality, the mother still has to bear the greater part of the burden.

Moreover, when asked, "How do you want the father to help with child care," the following replies were given: "If he would watch our small child, it would be a great emotional support." "I would like us to raise the child together." "I want him to play with the child a lot." "I want him to help out when I need help." "I want him to listen to my problems and let me know what he thinks." Although most families are made up of a mother, father, and child, it is the mother who has to suggest cooperation in child care. While child care is a wonderful task, I find it strange that the fathers do not get actually involved. On the other hand, the following view was given, "Inasmuch as the father may be willing to participate in child care, this can't happen if the company and the society don't change." There is a lively exchange on this issue in the forum on the Japanese homepage of Child Research Net, the sponsor of today's symposium. Working mothers would like to have the father back as part of the family. They want fathers to be involved and would like to see society changed so this can happen.

Figure 9 indicates the persons (facilities) to whom both the mother or father turn when worried about child care. They tend to seek help from another mother, friend, or co-worker. I would like to point out the percentage who seek advice from the kindergarten/nursery school or pediatricians. Full-time working mothers, shown in red, rely very much on the kindergarten/nursery school. More of them rely on pediatricians than full-time housewives and part-time working mothers. Working mothers are working hard to care for their children while relying on these people.

Many mothers worry that working will make their child feel lonely. Some feel that they are not able to deal with their children well because of their own problems, and they want to be able to deal with their children in a more relaxed way. In the Child Research Net forum, a full-time housewife and mother wondered if there were any mothers who were reluctant to go to work and cried because they did not want to leave their child. One working mother responded that it would be natural for anyone to feel that way. I believe that regardless of whether one has a job or not, all mothers love their children and are concerned about them at all times.

Benesse Corporation, the supporter of Child Research Net, has many employees who are working mothers. While I was having a work-related meeting with one employee, I was asked the following question, "What do you think of mothers who work?" I replied that while it would mean the mother would have less time with the child, one can make full use of that little time. As long as the mother can express to the child that she loves him or her, and that she always cares, being fulfilled in one's job rather than silently wishing one could go out and work can also have a good effect on the child. After that, the person showed a sign of relief. I thought to myself that even the so-called privileged employees of Benesse also have the same worries as other working mothers.

Working mothers seem to feel anxious about child care. Although they believe that they have a right to work, this feeling is overshadowed by worries that their working will have a negative impact on the child. I have heard mothers say that it is painful to hear day care providers and other people comment about their working instead of staying home. Some working mothers admit that it is painful to hear this, but they also feel that day care providers are supposed to think of the child's welfare, and this makes them feel more assured about leaving children in their care.

In child care counseling, I tell mothers that even if such day care providers may have something against working mothers, these comments are just unacceptable. Mothers who are aware of this perception or those with a strong personality won't let it bother them, but there are many mothers who feel guilty and are barely managing. Recently, I wonder if blaming the mother can be any good for her or for the child.

Let me tell you about an episode in the forum of the homepage. This is a story about a day care provider in charge of a class of one-year old children. The teacher told the mother she wanted to cooperate with her to provide the best care for her child. Twenty years passed. No matter how cute a child is, teachers see a lot of children come and go, and they don't remember each and every child, right? Well, the teacher had just about forgotten when she received a wedding invitation from the mother. When the teacher showed up at the wedding, the mother expressed gratitude for helping her make her child what she had become.

Now, let's see how children feel. These opinions have also been taken from those gathered in the forum. They have been written by adults who looked back into their own childhood. One question asked mothers what they wished their mothers had said to them to make them feel more secure. Responses included such comments as: "Even if I cannot go to school to observe your class because I have to work, I am always here." Don't feel lonely. If anything happens, I will be there right away.. Mom can go out and work because you're healthy and strong, right?" When they were children, they wanted to know that their mothers would be there right away if anything happened.

As seen, mothers and children are doing their best. So what I want to ask all of you here today-fathers, day care providers, doctors and researchers-is not to drive mothers into a corner. Instead, just like the teacher I have mentioned earlier, please suggest caring for the child together. Isn't that a better way to contribute to making life more enjoyable for mothers and children?

I believe that we should think about caring for children together and creating a social system that enables everyone to care for children together as a way of supporting working mothers and children in the coming 21st century.

Today I have given a brief overview of the survey finds and I would like to conclude to my remarks here. Thank you.

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