Full-time working mothers: We need to make it easier

by pregnancy journalist

Australian working mothers with children under five are stressed out  90 percent of the time.

That shocking finding from Professor Lyn Craig, Director and Professorial Australian Research Council  Future Fellow at the Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales should serve as a slap in the face to anyone in charge of making policy decisions regarding working mothers in this country.

Because for the approximately 132,000 Australian women currently living this pretty hellish scenario, Professor Craig’s results come as no surprise.

The impact of long-term stress on women’s health has been well documented and working mothers are continually found to be at risk.  Stress affects absolutely every aspect of our lives from relationships and rising divorce rates to lack of sex drive, fertility issues, hormones, weight and feelings of anxiety and depression.

Without serious change,  this untenable situation will have lasting impact on the mental health of women and their growing children in years to come.

A recent study has found Australian working mothers with children under five are stressed out  90 percent of the time. Source: iStock

How did we get into this mess?

In her lecture at University of New South Wales in April last year, Professor Craig said, ‘At the moment the Australian government sees the balance between home and work as a largely private matter, relying on market- based solutions to solve it.”

But the rising cost and inflexibility of child care options, along with indifference and cost of the job market, means women have their backs against the wall.

The women who participated in Professor Craig’s research said that these feelings of stress mostly came from being constantly interrupted and switching between tasks.

They also reported spending more time (than male partners) responsible for the physical care of children (lifting, breastfeeding, bathing, chasing, etc.) and travel. That is, getting children and to and from pre-school, daycare, activities, shops, home and back, etc.

We’re also doing it much tougher than women in previous generations. Professor Craig found we’re spending on average two hours more caring for our children than our mother’s generation. This despite the fact that approximately 60 percent of us are working.

Plus, we’re spreading our stress around the extended family. Pressured for time and rising costs, we’re asking grandparents to help out. So they in turn give up extra sleep and leisure time to lend a hand to struggling younger working families.

Professor Craig also said that grandmothers are also cutting back on their own paid work opportunities to help their daughters work more.  This, at a time when the government is calling for greater workplace participation from both groups (older women and women of maternal age).

Research found that these feelings of stress mostly came from being constantly interrupted and switching between tasks. Source: iStock

… and how do we get out of it?

Professor Sheree Gregory, a Human Resource Management academic at Western Sydney University, told Kidspot the power of gender culture is still a  barrier to real gender equality and flexibility in the workplace.

She said: “Many Australian’s still have a deep cultural belief about what a ‘good mother’ is and a ‘good father’, and these ideas, norms and assumptions are brought into policy-making and into the workplace – they are some of the key factors that shape arrangements, and negotiations about arrangements.”

Over 700 Kidspot mums told our 2015 child care survey just how conflicted they constantly feel. We want to work to help our families get ahead, but we’re struggling to find services to adequately cater for the needs of our children while we can’t be there to do just that.

We want to be good employees to earn money, to secure our superannuation, to continue our (long fought for) career trajectories. But finding enough support to care for our children in order to do this is practically impossible.

Five tips to achieving a work-life balance

Five tips to achieving a work-life balance

What do real working mothers need?

Senator Cash listed five programs focusing on child care subsidy, including a now expired Nanny Trial, plus business incentives to get women back in the workforce.  And the new Supporting Families website compiling legal information for employers and employees.

Now let’s compare these government-supported programs with a “flexible workplace wish list” recently written by Kidspot mums …

  1. “Acknowledging that my family is my number one priority and I am doing my very best to juggle it all.”

2. To have flexible start and finish times that contribute to an end total of a 36 hour week.

3. Paid and extra breaks for breastfeeding or expressing mothers.

4. “An understanding when I have to leave early or late when the kids are sick or have other appointments.”

5. To be free to work from home when child is sick and one day a week to keep on top of things.

6. “A flexible workplace to me is a place where the people understand you are a mother/parent first. And while you do have a job to do at work, if duty calls, you run. With absolutely no judgement from the other end!”

7. To be excused from attendance in person at late or super early meetings.

8. “Knowing that child care will call to tell me that one of my kids has fallen over and I need to take that call.”

Spot the difference! What real working mothers need most is the opportunity to be trusted by their employers to do their jobs, while still ensuring the needs of their families are met.

Change like this can only be achieved when there is strong social policy in place to support it. Without it, working women and their families will continue to suffer.

Australian working mothers with children under five experience stress 90 percent of the time according to research from the University of New South Wales. How did we get into this mess?

This content was originally published here.

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