Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

"The Guilt Thing": Balancing Domestic and Professional Roles

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

"The Guilt Thing": Balancing Domestic and Professional Roles

Article excerpt

Women's representation in the workforce has increased dramatically over the past 30 years; yet, women "take a greater responsibility for the care of children" (Equal Opportunities Commission, 2006). Research has suggested working mothers may experience guilt resulting from the social constrictions of a traditional model of intensive mothering (B. Holcomb, 1998). Forty-two audiotaped conversations of female teachers (n = 8) were collected in a British high school. Qualitative analyses of 3 conversations, in which 5 of the teachers discussed their professional and domestic responsibilities, demonstrated that the participants discursively aligned to 3 dominant interactional positions, accessibility, happiness, and separate spheres (Y. Elvin-Novak & H. Thomsson, 2001). The analyses also revealed the use of supportive conversational strategies such as co-complaining and matching accounts.

Key Words: child care, discourse analysis, family interaction, maternal employment, occupational stress, work family balance.

Women today have access to a wider range of life options than in the past, yet, for many mothers, balancing both domestic and workplace roles within the constraints of a specific cultural milieu (Arendell, 1999) results in stress and feelings of guilt (Schindler Zimmerman, Weiland Bowling, & Moffat McBride, 2001; Suis, Alliger, Learner, & Wan, 1991). It has been suggested that the guilt mothers experience because of their participation in the workplace is inherent in the society around them (Holcomb, 1998).

Women in the Workplace

Women in the U.K. currently make up fewer than half of the full-time workforce (35%), whereas men provide most of the full-time labor (65%). In the part-time labor market, however, women vastly outnumber men, providing 77.3% of the workforce (United Kingdom National Statistics release for March 2006).

Research carried out by the U.K. Commission for Equal Opportunities has interpreted this trend as representative of the fact that women are likely to be the main caregivers in households where there are children and therefore seek employment with hours that will accommodate domestic responsibilities. Although women with degrees are likely to work full time, the labor patterns in the U.K. suggest that "women take a greater responsibility for the care of children than fathers" (Equal Opportunities Commission, 2006, p. 1). A question arising from these statistics is whether these working trends are because women choose to stay at home and contribute more to child care or because the social pressure of conforming to the traditional model of intensive mothering is still hard to resist.

Social Construction of Motherhood

The ideological roots of what currently equates to a good mother are based on the nuclear family and a model of intensive mothering (Arendell, 1999, 2000). The "good mother" is a social construct deeply embedded within modern Western society (Holmes, 1997; McMahon, 1995). In both film and advertising, mothers are typically represented as pivotal figures in the maintenance of family life (Gillis, 1997; Kaplan, 1992). The news media also have added to this image of intensive mothering by widely reporting negative effects of working on both mothers and children. Media bias in favor of the stay-at-home mother (Cheal, 1991) also has been noticeable (Kendrick, 2005).

Many news stories report the negative effects of day care on children whose mothers work. Despite a body of literature (e.g., Holcomb, 1998; Howes, 1990) showing that the inadequate quality of some day care rather than day care per se causes problems, day care still carries a stigma (Schindler Zimmerman et al., 2001). For example, a mother who is perceived to put her work interests before those of her child may become a target of negative gossip among her peer group (Guendouzi, 2001) or may feel the need to compete for social capital on the basis of accounts of good mothering practices (Guendouzi, 2005). …

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