JANE'S mum missed one of her twelve dance recitals because she had to work. Instantly she's the worst mother in the world.

Little Johnny has to catch the bus home from school on Tuesdays because his mum has a late shift - yep, put her on the worst parent list too.

Whether they work because they have to, or work because they want to, mothers continue to fall under the scrutinizing eyes of judgmental parents who are convinced their way of rearing children is the right way.

Well, it's time we listened to the experts.

"The fact is, there are always going to be people who negotiate parenting and working in a different way to the way you do," Associate Professor Barbara Masser from the University of Queensland's School of Psychology said.

"Working can ease the financial pressures but add to the domestic challenges. Not working can do the opposite.

"If you're working for the money then that is all right, but so is working because you want to."

Specialising in gender discrimination and perceptions of working mothers, Dr Masser said people tended to judge mums on their reasons for working.

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"Research shows mothers who are seen to work for personal fulfilment are judged more harshly or negatively than those who are judged to work because of financial necessity," she said.

"Similarly, mothers who work part-time are judged more positively than women who work full-time. 

"This is a result of the fact we still tend to associate women with a nurturing role, and there are those that believe the priority for women once they become mothers should be their children above all else."

Balancing family and work shouldn't be looked at as a threat, but a challenge.
Balancing family and work shouldn't be looked at as a threat, but a challenge. ETC

Then comes the potential for discrimination in the workplace.

"Because becoming a mother makes gender stereotypes more salient, working mothers are seen as more deficient in stereotypically male attributes such as competence, which are critical for success in the workplace," Dr Masser said.

She said this could lead to working mothers feeling as though they were failing at both being a parent and a worker.

"This is clearly not good for that person; it has the potential to undermine their sense of self-worth," Dr Masser said.

But the pressures don't stop at what others think. The expectations mums put on themselves could be even higher.

She advised mothers to stop seeing work and family as a conflict, but as symbiotic roles.

"That is viewing being a mother as having a positive effect on fulfilling your role at work," she said.

"Key here is viewing the task of combining your work and family roles as a challenge rather than a threat. 

"Seeing something as a challenge makes you feel motivated to deal with it and capable of drawing on available resources."

Dr Masser drew on a study by Elianne van Steenbergen, Naomi Ellemers, Alex Haslam and Femke Urlings on working mothers in the Netherlands which found by encouraging mothers to see their family and work as a challenge rather than a threat, lead to those mothers feeling greater capacity to cope with the role combination.

"Of course, as with all research this is all well and fine at the abstract level, and little comfort when you have a sick child on your lap and a deadline to meet," she said.

"However, keeping this kind of appraisal in mind as a guiding principle is likely to result in better psychological wellbeing in the longer term."

Her tips for juggling it all?

"Sometimes it is the sense that things are out of control that is stressful," Dr Masser said.

"So identify the particular aspect of the juggle that is bothering you and see if there is any potential to control those aspects. 

"So if getting out of the house in the morning is stressful, think creatively about what you can potentially do to make that more streamlined. 

"If the constant expectation of replies to emails out of hours is making you feel stressed then think out putting up an 'out of office' email once you leave the workplace, so that people's expectations are managed.  

"Acting to gain some control over these elements may make you feel better (even if they don't always work!)"

 

Miss last week's episode on kids' health and nutrition? WATCH IT HERE.

Check out our week two episode on 'smack or no smack' HERE.

And out week one episode on technology HERE. 



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