- Isabella Lenarduzzi

Back to school: a woman’s affair?

Have you ever experienced stress around 4pm at work when you know that your children are on their way home from school and have homework to do? Back to school signals the return of the conflict between school life and the pace of the working environment.

Juggling private and professional lives is stressful for both parents but especially for mums … at least this is what I’ve seen and which was also confirmed by JUMP in our survey carried out together with Educadomo. The idea for that survey came from research by Catalyst, which highlighted that parents’ level of stress at work (particularly mums but also dads) peaks at the end of the school day when our children go on to after-school clubs or are left to their own devices or are being looked after by a nanny.

The majority of parents are involved in the schooling of their children, but our survey confirmed that it is still mainly mothers who assume most of the responsibility and who have to juggle and resolve everything. Half of the respondents in the survey were not satisfied with juggling their work while trying to support their children’s schooling. Women (48%) felt more overwhelmed than men (32%). All of the women included in our survey were working mothers. Over 60% of them felt that the entire burden of managing their children’s schooling rested firmly on their shoulders! These same women were more likely to prioritise helping their children with their school work or their extra-curricular activities over their own work (34% against 27% of men).

“I decided to work 4 out of 5 days and I know that this will have consequences on my career and on my pension but I don’t have a choice.”

“I became self-employed because it was the only way that I could look after my children when the school day finished.”

JUMP has often stated that the cause of the many inequalities between men and women in the workplace is rooted in the unequal distribution of free time. Mothers who work full time have to cope with a “double day”. Various studies have shown that free time has not changed the division of tasks. Time off work became “free time” for men but “more time for household chores and family” for women. However, there are signs that domestic tasks are more likely to be shared in households in which both partners have careers and wages of a similar level.

During exam time nearly 7 out of 10 parents claim to spend their evenings helping their children with their revision. A large majority (particularly women) also rearrange their schedules based around the exams of their children, in other words they take time off from work.

Over 61% of women believed that working full time prevented them from following the education of their children more closely but 65% were satisfied with the balance between these two aspects when they worked part time. This certainly explains why one woman in two said that they would like to work part time if they could, compared to only two men out of 10.

The impossible equation

What I found most surprising about the results of this survey, and even depressing, is the fact that women feel torn between their duty as a mother and their role as a professional. They believe, more so than their husbands, that their children cannot be left to do their homework on their own and they take any shortcomings in their child’s education as proof that they are not present enough at home. However, statistically they are the ones who sacrifice the most time! Men believe that their children should take responsibility for their own education and will only give up their time if they are sure it won’t affect their careers. To gain peace of mind we first have to negotiate as parents and work on lifting that guilt!

I think if we take not only the wage gap but also the gap in “well-being” between men and women working full time as a measure of equality in the workplace, the results would be alarming!

So come on mums, stop letting the guilt eat away at you, negotiate better with fathers, grandparents and friends and make your children more responsible for their actions. Our peace of mind is important for our own fulfilment, which in turn is the best present we can give our children.

Enjoy the start of the school year!

Isabella Lenarduzzi