- Isabella Lenarduzzi

Getting back into the School-Work Swing

You know it all too well, the stress that working parents experience around 4pm when they know their children are coming 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 a survey carried out in 2009 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 the survey by Educadomo & JUMP confirmed that it is still mainly mothers who assume most of the responsibility. 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 – a crucial time for parents – 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!


Anne-Marie Slaughter caused a buzz this summer with her article, “Why Women still cannot have it all“, in which she quoted a number of solutions for individuals. Such solutions included choosing a good life partner who will share the burdens of family life, manage his career in line with the different rhythms and responsibilities of the various periods of life, work on family values and his own happiness … but there are also collective solutions, which we prize so highly in Europe.

Legislation is essential for helping parents, but also necessary to fight the inequalities that still exist between fathers and mothers, especially with regard to employment policies, childcare, the length of the school day, tax or social protection.

Suggestions that come up time and again often relate to the need to restructure the school day in general. Parents have asked for more school supervision, directed and/or supervised studies within school but after school hours, as well as sports and music clubs as extra-curricular activities provided by the school.

And when it comes to companies … only 38% of respondents said their company was aware of the issue of work/life balance and had incorporated it into the human resources policy. A further 38% replied that their company was aware of the issue but had no solution. Some parents stated that they would even be prepared to change employer if they had a better policy towards work/life balance. This is mainly true for women but it is also a reality for some men as well, especially if they belong to Generation Y.

For Monique Chalude, who chaired the meeting of experts organised around the launch of the JUMP-Educadomo survey, the results illustrated the necessary steps that needed to be taken to involve all stakeholders, including social partners and public authorities, to create new ways of thinking, break away from conservative attitudes and embark on innovative projects that reflect the real needs of workers, parents, children and teachers.

From today, the JUMP groups and pages on Facebook and LinkedIn will provide a platform for career advices for women. Every month an expert will touch on one or two subjects dealt with in the JUMP newsletter. This month HR Consultant, Trainer and Professional coach, Els Deboutte, presents the theme “back to school and balancing our lives.” Log in and join the discussions!