Working Moms and Kids
True or False: At-home mothers in 1965 spent more time with their children than working mothers did in 1998.
Images of Sixties TV supermoms like Donna Reed and June Cleaver notwithstanding, the answer is -- False.
A just-released University of Maryland study shows that today's working mothers actually spend slightly more waking hours with their children than at-home mothers did a generation ago. Sociologist Suzanne Bianchi asked 300 working moms to keep time diaries explaining how they'd spent the previous 24 hours. The results, compared to time diaries kept by '60s moms, showed the following:
- In 1998, working mothers spent an average 5.8 waking hours with their children.
- In 1965, they spent 5.6 hours with the kids.
Working Moms Shortchange Selves, Not Kids
Not surprisingly, the study is being greeted with more than a few raised eyebrows. How are today's stressed-out working mothers, desperately juggling the demands of careers and kids, possibly "keeping pace" with the at-home moms of yesterday?
Bianchi found that working moms cheat themselves, rather than their children, sleeping five to six hours less each week than mothers who are not employed outside the home.
"The mothers who are employed report less sleep, less volunteer time, a total of 12 fewer hours of 'uncommitted' time each week," Bianchi says." Mothers in '65 had more kids, and spent more time cleaning and doing housework."
Although the sample group of 300 mothers was small, the results square with research done at the Families and Work Institute in New York.
"The findings (here) are very similar to our National Study of the Changing Workforce and our Ask the Children survey," reports Ellen Galinsky, president of the Institute. "We found that in households where both parents work, the time mothers spend with their children had not changed in 20 years. Fathers, on the other hand, were spending more time with their children."
Bianchi believes much of the research on working mothers may have been misleading, by focusing squarely on women's hours on the job, rather than the totality of their time at work and home.
"Perhaps we got so caught up in measuring mothers' employment that we may have overlooked that time spent with the children was so precious, it was the last thing to go," she reflects.
Moms' Reactions: Disbelief and Recognition
"I find it hard to believe," says Amy H., mother of two and co-owner of an office supply company. She works 65-hour weeks and spends about 3 hours a day with her children, more on the weekends. Her own experience as a mom is so different from that of her own mother, a homemaker, that she thinks it's incredible that her own children aren't getting a lot less of her time and attention.
On the other hand, the notion that working mothers are sacrificing time for themselves rings true.
"I'm either working or with the kids," Amy says. "I've decided not to do things for myself, like work out, read a book, or spend time with my friends. There's no 'me' time. You're 'on' at the office, you're 'on' at home. I know intellectually I need to strive to create that balance, but it never happens."
Interestingly, while one working mom disbelieves the results, an at-home mom is not surprised.
"Thinking back to my own childhood, our parents didn't have all the appliances that we have today," muses Rita S., mother of Ben and Nicole. "Moms might have been physically there more, but they were busy cooking, cleaning, sewing, and ironing."
Rita, who quit her job a year ago, finds life less stressful, but does not necessarily find she spends a great deal more time with her children (one exception is homework, which she believes requires more parental involvement than it did a generation ago). In fact, she believes she probably works as many hours as a community volunteer as she did as a paid employee.
"When Ben comes home from preschool, I'm not necessarily spending every minute doing activities with him," she notes. "I still have to do some things around the house. But in general, I would agree that working moms put their children first, their jobs second, and themselves last."
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