Time poverty. That's the consequence, according to soon-to-be-published research by Griffith University, that many women experience as they try to juggle the demands of being a mother with the demands of being an employee.
In a series of long interviews, the scholar who led the study discovered multitasking is a primary method mothers use in an attempt to solve their time poverty. It mostly doesn't work. In fact, it was frequently found to worsen the problem because it makes them feel more stressed, more intense and, somewhat contradictorily, less productive. That's because multitasking may sound efficient in theory but the reality is tasks end up being done half as well.
Even when opportunities for relaxation materialised, a dominant sensation took over: mother guilt.
Another common solution is that people merge work duties with home chores. The mothers in the study would adopt that method when, for example, they used periods of quiet at home to catch up on work emails. It was a successful approach for some of the participants. For most of them, however, it "appeared to degrade the quality of time". Periods when they should have been enjoying a well-earned break were instead consumed by job-related compulsions.
One of the interviewees explained it like this: "There's never enough hours in the day … I can't get through what I need to get done ... like, time for me to just sit and read or go and get my legs waxed or hair cut, it's a rushed thing on the weekend. It's never relaxing."
Even when opportunities for relaxation materialised, a dominant sensation took over: mother guilt. That's when mums felt bad they weren't dedicating enough time to their children.
Is there such a thing as father guilt? Not according to this participant: "I've got that mother guilt, where I feel guilty for doing things without the kids; he [husband] doesn't have any."
The truth, of course, is that father guilt does exist, just nowhere near as much.
Among the mothers profiled in the research, the guilt extended beyond consideration for their children to encompass their own wellbeing as well. Physical exercise, for instance, was an activity regularly sacrificed because of obligations to either their family or their employer.
For one of the interviewees, the evening meal, too, became a luxury her time poverty couldn't entertain. "I don't really have dinner, which I guess is a bit weird … you do feel the pressure of things you've got to do."
Another consequence is contaminated leisure. It's an unendearing term that refers to the relaxation activities that aren't so relaxing for parents who find they need to combine them with childcare responsibilities. It's a consequence that tends to favour, or rather disfavour, one gender in particular.
Evidence that females are that gender can be seen in another study, by the University of New South Wales that was published in February. Using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the researchers analysed the daily diaries of 756 couples. They discovered that:
Mothers spend an average of 18.5 hours a week in contaminated leisure. Fathers, in contrast, escape with just 10.1 hours a week.
Seventy per cent of mothers feel rushed or pressed for time. Among fathers the rate drops by about 11 per cent.
Mothers spend approximately 15.7 hours a week simultaneously engaged in two or more forms of unpaid work. For fathers it's just four hours a week.
In the earlier study, an interviewee summarised her situation like this: "I often berate myself for being inefficient, but then sometimes I think about it and I think, well, no … it's impossible to do all those things that you want to do."
Impossible? Maybe, maybe not. From the perspective of motherhood, I obviously wouldn't know. It does seem to add weight, though, to the old refrain that a woman's work is never done.