by Dr Pam Jarvis
Earlier this year, I blogged on this website about the effects of childcare upon infants (‘Some Reflections on Infancy in the 21st Century’) and in doing so, I quoted from a UNICEF report, ‘The Childcare Transition:
A great change is coming over childhood in the world’s richest countries. Today’s rising generation is the first in which a majority are spending a large part of early childhood in some form of out-of-home child care….. Whether the child care transition will represent an advance or a setback – for today’s children and tomorrow’s world – will depend on the response (UNICEF 2008, p.1).
While the effect upon infants is certainly important, I have recently begun to wonder about the effects upon their mothers. There has been little research focusing on the effects of significant hours of paid work upon mothers of small children, and the studies that have been undertaken tend to make somewhat inconclusive findings. There appears to be a complex interaction between stressors in the workplace and stressors in the home; there is no simple or linear relationship between paid work and raised levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in mothers of young children (e.g., Hibel et al 2012). The way forward would thus seem to be qualitative, interview-based research for a more in-depth investigation of the interaction of stressors in individual situations.
Some years ago, I was asked to take part in an interview-based research project undertaken by a colleague, focusing upon the reflections of female academics. Much of her questioning related to achievements that I was proud of and aspects of my life that I valued most. To her surprise, and to some extent to mine, I said very little about professional matters, but a lot about my children’s achievements, a few academic, but principally relating to their personal qualities. Finally, my colleague asked me directly about my academic achievements and why these had not featured very highly in our conversation. I replied that I was proud of these to some extent, but in the end I had engaged in my studies and teaching because I wanted to, so these aspects of my life belonged only to me and stayed with me. However, having been a full time mother for eleven years, bringing up children to become independent minded, thoughtful, generous and resourceful seemed altogether more outward than inward facing to me and therefore, somehow more important. I think we were both rather surprised with the way the interview turned out, and I have contemplated this topic on and off ever since.
I have come to no firm conclusions as yet, but recently, in writing a chapter relating to changes in child care practice from the mid twentieth century to the present, I discovered that the most rapid rise in the female workforce occurred in the decade between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s. The earlier half of this decade encompassed the period spanning the birth of all of my children, and latter half the period in which I added the role of Open University student to full time mother, the mode in which I completed my first degree. I began to contemplate that I was born into a culture that constructed motherhood in a very traditional way, but fired by the growing liberation of women over the period of my childhood, entered a period of rapid change just as I became an adult, and a mother.
I am one of the generation that American Historian Jonathan Pontell has labelled ‘Generation Jones’ (Williams 2014 online), born between 1954 and 1964, the younger sisters and brothers of the trail blazing baby boomer ‘children of the revolution’ born between the mid 1940s and early 1950s. President Barak Obama, born in 1961, has commented that he identifies with the generational features of ‘Jonesers’ which Williams describes as:
…..Have(ing) more respect than the polemical boomers for differing opinions, and are willing, like Obama, to work within the system rather than overthrow it…. an extension of the “me generation,” finding narcissism among its traits, although… undercut with ironic self-deprecation.
Williams (2014 online)
Does moving between the two worlds of motherhood and study when my children were young therefore typify a generational rather than simply an individual attempt to engage with a rapidly changing culture, and is my enduring focus on my children’s achievements evidence of a generational feature of ‘ironic self-depreciation’? Might such an orientation emerge from a split identification with the culture I inhabited as a child, and the very different culture into which I emerged as a young adult and young mother?
The winds of cultural change now follow ‘Jonesers’ into grandparenthood; we expect to age far less rapidly and take significantly more day-to-day responsibility for our grandchildren than our own grandparents, given that it is now an entrenched societal expectation that our ‘Generation Y’ daughters will continue in full time employment once they themselves become mothers. I swim quite a few miles each week, sometimes contemplating the fact that my one-time champion swimmer grandmother did not even own a swimming costume by the time I was born, spending most of her time pottering around the house and knitting!
And, perhaps then, the culture of motherhood is still in the midst of rapid change. The Generation Y website states:
Instead of working long shifts to work their way up an organisation the millennial generation prefer flexible working schedules and a more rounded work/life balance… Many Generation Y’s have grown up with overworked parents and this has driven the new perception to work. The older generation may see this as a commitment issue; however the millennials merely view life differently and want to find the best blend of an enjoyable life with a fulfilling working environment.
Generationy.com (2015, online)
Any comments from Generation Y mothers out there would be very gratefully received- I am still thinking my way through this topic. Perhaps you will be the ones to balance the motherhood and career situation so that it finally becomes motherhood and career rather than motherhood versus career? There will be many politicians to convince along the way, but I am sure you can rely on your ironic, overworked Generation Jones mothers to cheer you on from the sidelines- when we are not in the gym or in the pool, keeping ourselves fit enough to run after the grandchildren!
Read more from Dr Pam Jarvis in her article The Time Traveller’s Daughter
Generationy.com (2015) Generation Y Characteristics. Retrieved from: http://www.generationy.com/details-about-generation-y-in-the-workforce/characteristics/ 10th June 2015.
Hibel, L. C., Mercado, E., Trumbell, J. M. (2012). Parenting stressors and morning cortisol in a sample of working mothers. Journal of Family Psychology. Vol 26, pp.738-746.
UNICEF (2008) The Child Care Transition: a league table of early childhood education and care in economically advanced countries. Retrieved from: http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc8_eng.pdf 10th June 2015.
Williams, J. (2014) Not My Generation. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Generation-Jones/145569/ 10th June 2015.