A Look at Working Mothers - Balancing Child Rearing with the Other Demands in the Lives of Moms System - Papers & Essays



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A Look at Working Mothers - Balancing Child Rearing with the Other Demands in the Lives of Moms System


Mothers are the front line child care providers. In Canada there are ambivalent opinions about whether mothers should be in the workforce. Types of tax reform contemplated would only slightly benefit families, but these reforms would hurt the Canadian economy and be too costly to carry out. Studies show that moms in Canada choose to enter the workforce. Overtime hours and commuting time means that both parents have less time for family. A mother’s goal is to love her child, respect her child’s differences and look after the child’s safety, while encouraging the child’s confidence, resilience and character development. Moms can find ways to decrease the time stress in their home lives. Moms need to keep healthy in body and mind. Flexible employers find ways to ease the stresses of mothers. Governments should enact laws that foster a family-friendly structure in the workplace, and they should prioritize affordable day-care services.

Child care providers, Opinions, Choosing to work, Overtime and technology, Tax restructuring, Time stress, Employer and government, Health

The future of the world rests largely in the hands of the generation we are rearing. Mothers are the front line child care providers, yet the job of being a mom is undervalued, and her frustrations are often passed over. Mothers in developing countries have always had to work outside the home. In developed countries during previous generations, moms usually stayed at home and attended to family needs full time, but since the Second World War, the situation has changed. Presently most moms in the developed and underdeveloped countries go to work as well as attend to family care.

I was exiting the elevator in my apartment building in Toronto one evening at 7:00 P.M. when a neighbour got on. "Whew!" she said. "What a day! Now I have to make supper and help the kids with homework. Don't know when I'll get to laundry." I nodded my sympathy as the elevator door closed.

While walking to the streetcar stop, another neighbour joined me. "I don't know what I'm going to do about my fourteen-year-old. He hasn't come home from school yet, and it's past seven already." She shook her head. "I was kept late at work today, but this happens too often." She added that her husband was a very gentle person and didn't like reprimanding their son.

These conversations reminded me of my own frustration about trying to balance child care, housekeeping, my career, finding time with my spouse and giving something back to the community. The memories prompted many questions.

How does the Canadian society view working moms? The answers are confusing. Reporting on his research, Joseph Michalski, stated: "If provided with adequate resources, most families would prefer to have one parent stay home when their children are young." (Cleveland and Krashinksy 39) There is a public view that mothers should be at home with young children. If a financial necessity isn't obvious, the mom is often labelled as pursuing her own selfish wishes at the expense of her family. Newspaper and magazine journalists often write stories about women, successful in their careers, "who choose to sacrifice their career for the better option of meaningful child rearing" (Cleveland and Krashinsky 41), and on the other hand Scarlet, a recent journal addressed to career women, featured an article about a successful physician, who was also a successful mother of two children and a loving wife. Such articles applaud the women who manage careers and child rearing.

Kathleen Kendall-Tackett (91-95) wrote about mothers' choices in the U.S., but I think her conclusions apply to Canadian mothers as well. "No choice is perfect...No matter which one you choose, someone will probably think that you made the wrong choice." Reasons why mothers work vary: The mom's salary is necessary to support the family; the mom must work to pay off family debt; she works to experience a job well-done and/or for intellectual stimulation; to follow a career path; to escape from home; to make a difference.

A high percent of Canadian women appear to want to work. On the website of Health Canada, see 4.3 Work-Life Conflict and the Decision to Have Children. Health Canada reported (December 2008) that women are more likely than men to opt for fewer children because of their careers. The fertility rate measures the number of children a woman will have during her lifetime. The report stated that Canada's fertility rate in 2002 was 1.5 per woman...far below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 (Statistics Canada, 2004). Women in managerial and professional positions are more likely these days to delay their first pregnancy because of their careers.

Men and women workers are now placing more importance on their family life than in the past, and employers and governments should get on track. Roger Sauvé reported in January, 2009, that 54% of Canadians place a high value on family compared to 10% on work. He asked if a good balance between family life and work life is possible and wrote that only 27% of respondents (to his survey) are convinced that work-life balance is attainable and only 17% believe that our Canadian society currently supports good balance. The workplace needs to change. Parents could press employers for more flexible work hours and services. In 2001, only 40% of organizations had personal support, family service, or counselling programs, only 9% had child care services. In the future, flexibility may be a pre-requisite for hiring and keeping employees. Governments set principles and standards that protect workers. The standards should address: (1) a safe and healthy environment, (2) a family-friendly structure, (3) promote gender equality, (4) facilitate worker choice and influence. "The provision of affordable day-care services for working and non-working families should be a priority." (Sauvé 27-29)

There is wide ambivalence about the mother's choices in other countries as well. Kathy O'Hara (1998) is quoted that in Sweden "the vast majority believe that both spouses ought to contribute to the family finances, and that the best way for women to be independent is to have a job--a majority is also concerned about what happens to children when mothers work." (Cleveland and Krashinksy 39)

Would a new tax policy reverse the trend of mothers entering the workforce? Cleveland and Krashinksy (45-49) spelled out possible tax reforms aimed at encouraging mothers to leave the workforce and stay at home. The authors conclude that the ease on the tax burden to families would be slight; however, the cost to the Canadian economy of withdrawing these mothers from the workforce would be huge. Productivity would diminish, therefore further hurting the economy. The skills these women possess would erode during the withdrawal period. Even with enormous tax breaks mothers might not opt to leave the workforce, so the option is to ensure that the children of these working mothers have good care outside the home.

Do mothers of young children choose to be in the workforce? The facts show that in Canada mothers choose to go to work. The statement that most mothers would prefer to care for their own children is likely true, but there are other factors entering into the decision of whether mothers choose to be stay-at-home moms or enter the workforce. (Cleveland and Krashinsky 39-49) Economics is a factor. Most Canadian mothers with new babies take advantage of parental leave provisions under the Employment Insurance scheme, which offers monetary relief. (Cleveland and Krashinsky 40) However, if we look at Canadian statistics for women with employed partners in the household, we find that in 2000, 74.2% of women with children between age 3 and 5 were employed, and 7 out of 10 mothers had full-time jobs. Even though these women were supported by partners, they chose to go to work. (Cleveland and Krashinsky 42) Roger Sauvé (9) wrote in January, 2009 that 84% of Canadian workers live in families with multiple incomes. Family heads comprise 36% of the total workforce. The spouses of family heads make up another 30% of the total workforce. Analysts suggest some reasons: families and children are more financially secure with two incomes; the mother's permanent attachment to the workforce protects women and children in cases of marriage break-up due to death or divorce; women's lives are improved because they lead more engaging lives; women and men can explore definitions of themselves, which provide good role models for the children; the entry of skilled women in the workforce allows greater productivity in the Canadian economy and brings in tax money, which can support social programs; and it is the reward from being attached to the workforce that keeps women working. The article concluded that despite the concerns that parents have about entrusting the care of their children to others, young women want to return to the workforce. (Cleveland and Krashinsky 45, 49)

The major complaint of mothers is "Not enough time." Canadian studies show the facts. "I haven't enough time," Victoria said, "I have to do everything myself. I have no back-up." Her partner helps financially, but the rest of managing life's duties is left to her, and she balances a part-time job, school to upgrade her skills, and rearing her three-year-old. It's a classic story.

"Time spent with family on a typical working day has decreased significantly over the past two decades, from 4.2 hours per day in 1986 to 3.4 hours in 2005." As work time increases, family time falls. Single female parents aged 25 to 44 spend the most hours in paid and unpaid work daily (10.9 hours). Married men working full time spend 7.4 hours daily on paid work and 3.2 on unpaid work, including family duties and community service, whereas their wives spend 5.6 on paid work and 4.9 hours on family duties and community service. (Sauvé 15, 16)

Not surprisingly, it is the women who are spending the most time on child rearing and housework. In 2006, over one-quarter of those aged 25 to 44 chose to work part time in order to allow time for child care. These part-time workers have fewer non-wage benefits and are in low income brackets. Women are also the usual caregiver for the couple's senior parents. (Sauvé 17, 18)

With the new high-speed communication technology, many workers find they are constantly "on duty." The time many mothers spend commuting to and from work is another factor that deprives her of time with her children. (Sauvé 14)

More workers are putting in overtime and over half of this overtime is unpaid. Men are 26% more likely to put in overtime than women (19%). This means they have less time to help at home. Overtime work can create stress for families: kids are left alone; children miss out on scheduled activities; meals are late and moms rely on fast food take-out; and there is less communication between family members. Overtime translates to difficulties in the workplace also: stress translates to less productivity, absenteeism, lower morale and higher turnover, which is costly for the employer. (Sauvé 20)

What mothers can do at home about time-related stress.

  1. Decide what is possible for you and don't let society pressure you into ways of acting or participating in activities beyond your endurance.
  2. Focus on one aspect of your workday at a time.
  3. Talk to your children about work, and if possible show them what you do at work.
  4. Insure that you have some time for yourself.
  5. Surround yourself with supporting friends who are good listeners.

Several young women I talked to could only generalize about what duties were most stressful. You can change the way you live if you face your feelings. Signs of stress, which if not managed can lead to burn-out and depression, are: negative emotions--you feel unappreciated, sad or angry every day--you doubt your ability; you are a perfectionist or have unrealistic expectations; you find yourself withdrawing from other people or overreacting to misdeeds; you have health problems such as pains, colds, inability to sleep, feel worn out, without enthusiasm; and you treat yourself with abusive substances. (Kendall-Tackett, 45-50)

At work, focus on the task at hand. When with your children make them the focus of your attention. Often I have seen a mom pushing her child on a swing or walking with him in the park while concentrating on talking with someone else on her cell phone instead of talking with her child. Do you think the child felt that he matters to his mom?

Kathleen Kendall-Tackett (115-135) found that it was easier to lighten the load at home than at work. You can simplify housekeeping, get rid of clutter, organize your priorities and leave off activities that aren't essential; you can ask for help; partners should sit down and plan what responsibilities each one will assume regarding child care and housework; relatives may live close enough to offer child care; exchange child care with a friend, so you can run errands unencumbered with little ones; ask whether you are overzealous about cleaning (Cindy had a cleaning-lady, but she found she was duplicating work, since she tidied before the cleaner came.); keep cleaning materials, appliances, writing materials and the phone near the place you will be using them. (My sister had her laundry and sewing room on the second floor near the bedrooms where laundry originated.)

You can also explore the possibility of having outside help. For example, the doula program is expanding in the U.S. Dr. Reiko Kishi wrote about doula support for postpartum moms in the May 29, 2009 CRN TOPIC article, Listening to women's childbirth experiences. The post-partum period is a particularly stressful time, since the new mom has changes going on in her body and must adjust to new responsibilities concerning her baby while carrying on with housekeeping chores. The idea of training young women, doulas, to work in homes with new babies and to assume household duties such as shopping, cooking, cleaning, answering the phone, laundry, etc. began with the founding of The Dutch Association of Maternity Home Care in 1922. "Women delivered at home or released within 24 hours of hospital birthing are eligible for aid of a skilled caregiver subsidized by the government." (Mason 88)

The goals of moms. What children need: to feel safe, feel loved and respected, feel good about themselves. (Black 16) And I agree with the goals Michele Borba described: the mother who lives with fun and faith helps the child form a moral code; by listening she teaches the child that he is important to her; she models her values, which helps the child develop character; she is flexible and adjusts to the child's style and interests which builds the child's confidence and self-reliance; she applauds effort which teaches perseverance; she accepts her own and the child's shortcomings and strengthens his resilience; she takes time to help the child build relationships outside the home; she laughs teaching the child about joy; and she takes care of her health, modeling this for her children.

No matter how short the time the mom has to spend with her children or how much money she has, she can follow these principles. We can name many inspiring people who lead happy, successful lives even though they grew up in poverty or in one-parent homes. Moms don't need to be on a fast-track or super human to be good moms.

"Nothing exerts an influence on how a woman raises a child as powerfully as does her own mother." (Black. 1) We tend to repeat the patterns we learned from our parents. What if your mother died or left when you were young; or she rejected you because she didn't want children; she was abusive; she was controlling and wanted you to play-out her wishes; she tried too hard to overcompensate for what was missing in her life; she was jealous of your successes; she rejected her own feelings (said you shouldn't feel that way instead of listening to your talk and acknowledging how you feel); she was ill and physically or emotionally unavailable? Your partner and groups can help you picture another way to mother. Forgive your mom, yourself and your child for shortcomings. Embrace the decisions you make regardless of the pressures of society. Show empathy and respect to your child. (Black 42-164) Parents should together define and enforce the family rules bearing in mind that the age and gender of the child matters. (Sax 164-200)

Every mom must first look after her own health. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett reminds readers that on an airplane we are told to put on our own air mask first and then attend to our child's. This is true of every day life as well. The authors I have sited above have offered advice about how moms can stay healthy.

  1. Accept your own feelings and find ways to decrease your stress.
    When we define ourselves as "busy" this generates a flux of frustrating thoughts and makes the body produce cortisol. This hormone is a natural secretion of the adrenal grand to help us in the "fight or flight" response to troubles. After the initial trouble is handled, the body should return to normal, but prolonged production of cortisol leads to unhealthy conditions such as high blood pressure, lowered immunity, increased abdominal fat, impaired cognitive function and other dysfunctions. Guard your mind by paying attention to what you watch on TV and read in order to avoid the prompting of upsetting thoughts.
  2. Remember why you are working or choose not to work. Let go of the guilt.
  3. Take care of your own health by eating and sleeping well, taking breaks and having regular dental and medical checkups.
  4. If you are caring for a child with special needs or if your child gets ill, learn all you can about that condition.
  5. Laugh a lot. Laugher and fun relieve stress.
  6. Some women meditate or practice yoga. Find a time for silence every day. Writing in a journal or making a list on a calendar can file away the tasks running through your mind. Your child needs silence as much as you do, so when your child is safely at play or asleep, find a place where you can be silent.
  7. Connect with your partner. Some women turn all their attention to their child and the husband feels unconnected. Face these feelings together; reconnect as friends, show love and affection in favourite ways.
  8. Find a confidant. Connect with a mother group and women friends. One mom told me that she phones her mom daily. The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto provides free consultation by phone to pregnant moms. For phone numbers see www.motherisk.org.
  9. Express your creative side. When we create, we feel uplifted. Haven't you noticed how pleased a child is to show off his drawing of mom? We don't have to be an expert to get the feeling of accomplishment from writing a letter or story, painting, making a dress, baking a cake, knitting a sweater, decorating the house for a holiday, and so on.
  10. Exercise. If joining a sport club or a fitness group isn't for you, walk to do your errands.
  11. Satisfy your urge for something new by choosing borrowed books at the library, finding new recipes to follow, trying a new activity, walking a different route.
  12. Motivate yourself by remembering that you are a model for your children.
  13. Enjoy your kids. They see the world with new visions every day, and their energy gives us a sense that the future world can be harmonious.

We all prosper when moms thrive.


Cleveland, Gordon and Krashinsky, Michael (2003). University of Toronto, Childcare and Research Unit. Fact and Fantasy: Eight Myths About Early Childhood Education and Care. www.childcarecanada.org/pubs/other/FF/Intro.pdf

Sauvé, Roger (January, 2009). The Vanier Institute of the Family, Ottawa, Canada. Family Life and Work Life, An Uneasy Balance.

Kendall-Tackett, Kathleen A. Ph.D., IBCLC (2005). The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood, Second Edition. Pharmasoft Publishing, L.P., Amarillo, Texas.

Mason, Linda (2002). The Working Mother's Guide to Life, Strategies, Secrets and Solutions. Three Rivers Press, New York, New York.

Borba, Michele, Ed.D (2006). 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know (Getting Back to Basics and Raising Happy Kids). Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Iprint, San Francisco, California.

Black, Kathryn (2005). Mothering Without a Map - The Search for the Good Mother Within. Penguin Books, New York, New York.

Sax, Leonard, M.D., Ph.D. (2005). Why Gender Matters, What Parents and Teachers need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences. Broadway Books, Random House, New York, New York.