Saturday, November 27, 2021

Working Mothers and Alarming Mental Health

A new social study undertaken at La Trobe University in Australia, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, has found a strong and reciprocal link between working mothers‘ management of their work-to-family conflict and their mental health.

Juggling paid work and family is commonplace for women in Western countries these days, but it’s really tough! Not only do these busy moms have the strains of the work environment to deal with, at home they have the ongoing ups and downs of family life—including the household’s mundane daily chores.

It’s no wonder mental health took center stage in this important topic when it was discussed on Australia’s ABC Radio National. And so it should, as we all know the popular sayings: “Happy mum, happy kids” or “Happy wife, happy life” — as simple as they are, these sayings ring true. Mental health is crucial to moms, and the struggle to maintain a right balance in the work and family relationship is key.

From the study, it’s clear that the struggle between work and family can impact on mental health and vice-versa.

Poor mental health can also impact on the ability to handle the work and family balance. These two factors appear to drive each other, and the mutual relationship is long-lasting over the course of the child’s early school life, and beyond, researcher Dr. Elizabeth Westrupp discusses.

A working mom's mental health is crucial to the baby.
A mother’s mental health is as important to baby as it is to mom. (Image: Raisin736 via Dreamstime)

All working mothers are susceptible to mental health issues

What was interesting about the findings was that differing circumstances of working moms included in the study — such as age, socio-economic, marriage status, or family size — did not appear to alter the dynamic of the work vs. family conflict and its links to mental health. In other words, all working mums who have trouble juggling these two big responsibilities are susceptible to these problems.

Does this mean that mom’s should just opt to be stay-at-home-moms for their mental health’s sake? No, if mothers want to return to the workforce, they should, as there are many rewards for doing so, including financial and social reasons.

But by being aware of the indicators of mental health in ourselves, our friends, and family, we can better help the women in the community to cope better with these challenges.

Further, Dr. Westrupp sees a greater need to support mothers during their transition back into the workplace through avenues of mental health support, for both the short and long term. As most families are juggling work and children, mental wellbeing is a prime issue to raise and to be aware of.

Asian grandma holding her grandson in the nursery.
Having a supportive family around can really help you on your quest to re-enter the workplace. (Image: Aekkarak Thongjiew via Dreamstime)

In addition to this, Dr. Westrupp highlights that more flexible, family-friendly workplaces and management would also go a long way to help minimize the work and family conflict, buffering the stress on mothers’ emotional and mental wellbeing.

Listen to Dr. Elizabeth Westrupp discuss her research in more depth in the full podcast.

Like physical health, mental health is an integral part of contributing to your workforce, your family, and your community. Often, your mental wellbeing may be something you do not think about — that is, until you are struggling with symptoms of anxiety or depression.

If you feel like you are grasping at straws while trying to strike the right balance, and not coping as well as you feel you ought to, it might be time to take the small step in talking to a trusted friend, or health professional. It may just be that you need to re-think your work and home-life balance, to meet your personal needs, and the changing needs of your growing family.

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Emma Lu
Emma Lu is an author who specializes in Cultural and Historical myths and stories.
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