Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Calling and Conflict: A Qualitative Exploration of Interrole Conflict and the Sanctification of Work in Christian Mothers in Academia

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Calling and Conflict: A Qualitative Exploration of Interrole Conflict and the Sanctification of Work in Christian Mothers in Academia

Article excerpt

This study investigated the role of spirituality in working Christian mothers coping with tension due to interrole conflict, in light of past research suggesting a relationship between spirituality and coping constructs. Interviews with 32 mothers working in Christian academia were examined using a post hoc analysis of content informed by principles of grounded theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Several aspects of a sense of calling emerged that appeared related to the experience of interrole tension: a sense of certitude, collaboration, and a context of purpose. It was theorized that for these women, the sanctification of work, through experiencing a sense of calling, was related to coping with interrole tension.


In today's culture many women with children participate in the workforce. In 2003, 7L1% of mothers in the United States with children under the age of 18 were employed (U.S. Department of Labor, 2004). The workforce participation rates of married mothers and mothers with children under the age of six were also high, at 68.6% and 62.8%, respectively. With increasing numbers of working mothers, many women take on the difficult task of managing interrole conflict, as they pursue both a career and motherhood. Interrole conflict was defined by Greenhaus and Beutell (1985) as a particular type of conflict that arises when different roles produce sets of pressures that are in some sense incompatible.

In recent years, spirituality has emerged as a key component of individual psychology. Its relevance to the topic of interrole conflict is suggested by its consistent connection to well-being (e.g., Coverman, 1989; Greenberger & O'Neil, 1993; Laster, 2002). In the following sections, existing research on interrole conflict will be reviewed, followed by a consideration of the spirituality literature suggesting a relationship with interrole conflict through the problem-solving and integrative characteristics of personal faith. It should be noted that, while interrole conflict for many working mothers takes place within the context of a family system, the current study focused on women's individual experiences and the concomitant use of personal resources.

Interrole Conflict

There is extensive research demonstrating that working mothers often report feelings of inner conflict between their career and parenting roles. This conflict is experienced as internal tension deriving from the seemingly conflicting goals of career and mothering. For example, Polasky and Holahan (1998) identified both internal and external sources of the conflict described by their participants, bringing to light the fact that the interrole conflict experienced by working mothers is not solely due to tangible role requirements, but also to internally perceived demands. Elvin-Nowak (1999) conducted a qualitative study on working mothers' experience of this internal role conflict in the form of guilt and found results similar to Polasky and Holahan; the experience of guilt was mainly due to women's subjective appraisal of the consequences of not meeting perceived role demands. Phanco's (2004) qualitative study of working mothers likewise indicated widespread experiences of internal tension, ranging from feelings of guilt to other negative self-assessments and stress.

The internal tension described here has been shown, in numerous studies, to have negative effects on the subjective well-being of working mothers. Coverman (1989) demonstrated that it is, in fact, the perception of work-family role conflict that decreases women's psychological health and well-being. Krause and Geyer-Pestello (1985) found that perceived conflict between work and home roles was highly predictive of depression in women. This effect was also observed by Greenglass (1985), whose results showed that stress from work-family conflict was associated with higher rates of psychological distress (depression, irritation, and anxiety) in women. …

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