Caring and Counting: The Impact of Mothers' Employment on Family Relationships

Caring and Counting: The Impact of Mothers' Employment on Family Relationships

Caring and Counting: The Impact of Mothers' Employment on Family Relationships

Caring and Counting: The Impact of Mothers' Employment on Family Relationships


Mothers' employment is widely perceived as having far-reaching effects on family relationships. The main work-life balance policies promoted by government focus on the amount of time mothers spend at work. This report challenges this approach. It suggests that what happens inside the workplace and how this interacts with family life is just as important.The report explores how mothers and their partners understand the impact of the mother's employment on their couple and parenting relationships, using a hospital and an accountancy firm as case studies. It highlights the way different aspects of paid work affect family relationships, and how they do so.


This chapter explores the mothers’ own views about the meaning of work, and their perceptions of the levels of autonomy and control they have in their workplace. It examines the extent to which these are influenced by the organisational ethos and culture of their workplaces described in the previous chapter. As we will show in subsequent chapters, these dynamics are important for how the mothers and their partners understood the impact of the mothers’ employment on their family relationships.

The meaning of work

The mothers’ perspectives on what work meant to them were shaped by their contrasting workplace cultures, their differing levels of autonomy and control in the workplace, and how they understood their work in relation to their family relationships.

The hospital

The mothers working at the hospital had a strong investment in a public service commitment to caring for the local community. Their views accorded with the hospital’s workplace ethos, framed around the notions of connection, community, and caring. They talked about their work as “making a difference” and/or “playing a part” in improving the lives of people within their local community and wider society:

“I’ve always wanted to work in the NHS
from when I left school. I never wanted to
work for a huge profit organisation. I
wanted to work for a hospital because it’s
giving something back to the community.”
(Annie, senior manager, higher status)

“I’m always seeing mothers and their babies
I delivered or been involved with antenatal
care. They come up to me and show me
their babies or I’ll see a child years later, that
gives me such a good feeling knowing that
I’ve played a part in bringing a life into the
world.” (Helen, senior nurse, intermediate

“My last two children were born here and
it’s nice to know that I’m working here and
giving something back to the hospital
because I got excellent care here.” (Denise,
clerk, lower status)

Many of the mothers were very committed to their work and their particular workplace. This was bolstered by the localised and community nature of the hospital, its supportive culture, and its family-friendly workplace practices.

Furthermore, the mothers both worked and lived in the local community they served: it was “their” hospital, both as employees and as potential patients. All lived within a five-mile radius of the hospital. As other studies of working women have found, working locally made it easier for the mothers to juggle their work and domestic commitments, especially as all of them had children aged five or under:

“The beauty of work is that if I get a call
from the school or the childminder saying
that one of the children have taken ill I can
be there in 40 minutes. If you’ve noticed
there’s lots of women with young children
at the hospital, and it’s got a nice family

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