Contemporary Motherhood: The Impact of Children on Adult Time

Contemporary Motherhood: The Impact of Children on Adult Time

Contemporary Motherhood: The Impact of Children on Adult Time

Contemporary Motherhood: The Impact of Children on Adult Time


In this timely book Lyn Craig provides the first comprehensive account of how parents divide their time between caring for children, housework, paid work and leisure. Using large-scale quantitative time-use data , the book provides a detailed analysis of the impact of children upon adult time. This research reveals a unique picture of how parenthood affects daily life within households, and how people's (paid and unpaid) workload is affected by parenthood. By looking at how the costs and benefits of children are currently conceptualized and apportioned, Contemporary Motherhood shows what becoming a mother entails and why it is so challenging to raise children. Suggesting an explanation for why fertility rates are dramatically dropping, the book makes a significant contribution to the debate on contemporary motherhood and will interest scholars and students in sociology and social policy with an interest in the sociology of the family, gender and sexuality, and the sociology of youth.


Becoming a parent is not only one of the most significant rites of passage in the human life course but a contribution to the perpetuation of the human race. For such a fundamental event, parenthood has become remarkably problematic. On a social level, this is evident in delayed childbearing and falling fertility rates. Becoming a parent poses, for women at least, a considerable dilemma. One of the most perplexing contemporary challenges for young women is whether to become a mother, when to become a mother, and how to manage being a mother to children once born. How could something so basic to human society cause such a quandary?

One answer is that it is because we have had half a sex revolution. Gender roles are much more similar, in that women have entered the work force in huge numbers, and male and female contributions to domestic labour, though not equal, have become more so. However, these changes have occurred through a revolution in women’s behaviour, not men’s. Women have taken up paid work; women have reduced the time they devote to housework. in the face of this, men’s behaviour has, relatively speaking, remained remarkably constant. the problem is that unilateral change in female behaviour is not adequate to the issue of children. There is a sticking point in the revolution: someone has to take care of the kids.

The problem is compounded by the fact that caring for children is largely invisible and no framework for social and economic accounting for it exists. a major cost of parenting is the time it takes. No adequate social provision for this time is being made; it is not quantified, and its extent is unknown. the issue is left to women to deal with individually, on an ad hoc basis, personally weighing the relative benefits and disincentives of remaining childless, embracing full time motherhood or ‘balancing’ work and family demands.

The lack of social recognition of the time demands of parenthood may mean that prospective mothers themselves are unaware of how large they will be. When new mothers meet the reality of the stalled revolution, there can be (along with exhaustion) feelings of confusion, bewilderment and betrayal. What they are doing is providing an essential and publicly useful service that is insufficiently supported by social institutions. This can be hard to pinpoint, not least because of the attachment women feel for their children. Lack of support does not mean they can withdraw the service, because their children need it. Just because it is not fair does not mean they will not do it. the opposite is also true: just because they do it, does not mean it is fair.

Also making the problem hard to articulate is that there is not a common social understanding of the issue. Attitudes to children, to gender issues and to paid work can operate on different planes. Nor does current social science theory clarify the matter. Children and parenthood are of interest to several disciplines, but none deals with all aspects of it. Psychology has promulgated the idea that sustained and attentive . . .

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