Blessed with children as well as a career outside the home, working mums may seem to have it all.
But actually they suffer a double guilt burden – that they are bad mothers because they work and bad employees because they have a family, a study shows.
Researchers found that working mothers agonised more about their job outside the office than fathers and had more negative thoughts about their family while at work.
Both parents think about their families, but only for mothers is this type of thought associated with increased stress and negative emotions. Shira Offer, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, studied mental labour in working parents in pressurised jobs.
She defines the term as thoughts and concerns that can impair performance, make it difficult to focus on tasks, and even hurt our sleep.
The study, presented to the American Sociological Association, relies on data from the 500 Family Study, which investigates how middle-class families balance family and work experiences.
The study looked at 402 American mothers and 291 fathers in dual-earner families who completed a survey and a time and emotions diary. Asst Professor Offer found that working mothers engaged in mental labour in about one fourth of their waking time.
Working fathers spent one fifth of their working time engaged in it.
This amounts to approximately 29 and 24 hours per week of mental labour for mothers and fathers, respectively.
However, mothers and fathers both spent about 30 percent of the time they were engaged in mental labour thinking about family matters. Last year, Victoria Beckham spoke of her guilt of going out to work. Mrs Beckham - mother to Brooklyn, 14, Romeo, 11, Cruz, eight, and Harper, two, - admitted balancing her parenting duties with managing her clothing empire leaves her feeling ‘constantly guilty’.
Speaking at London’s Vogue Festival, the 39-year-old, said: ‘I think you feel so torn, don’t you? But I’ve got great people who handle my schedule and everything does revolve around the children.’
Commenting on her research, Asst Professor Offer said: ‘What my research actually shows is that gender differences in mental labour are more a matter of quality than quantity. ‘I assume that because mothers bear the major responsibility for childcare and family life, when they think about family matters, they tend to think about the less pleasant aspects of it and are more likely to be worried.’
Asst Prof Offer added: ‘We know that mothers are the ones who usually adjust their work schedule to meet family demands, such as staying home with a sick child.
‘Therefore, mothers may feel that they do not devote enough time to their job and have to ‘catch up,’ and, as a result, they are easily preoccupied with job-related matters outside the workplace.
‘This illustrates the double burden, the pressure to be “good” mothers and “good” workers, that working mums experience.
‘I thought that highly educated fathers holding professional and managerial positions would often be preoccupied with job matters when doing things such as housework or during their free time.
‘It appears, however, that fathers are quite adept at leaving their work concerns behind and are better able to draw boundaries between work and home. ‘I believe that fathers can afford to do that because someone else, namely their spouse, assumes the major responsibility for the household and childcare.’
She added: ‘It is true that fathers today are more involved in childrearing and do more housework than in previous generations, but the major responsibility for the domestic realm continues to disproportionately fall on mothers’ shoulders and this has to change.’
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