Among the many complex roles that a lot of people live, married women with children have the most stressful roles. This review focuses on the multiple roles that married working mothers hold and how that caused role strain which indeed lead to stress. Mothers in this case refer to those that have young children, the ones that are the most demanding. Also we will see how those mothers coped with the stress. The role strain discussed is basically the conflict created when the women were trying to balance their multiple roles as wives, mothers, professionals etc. Out of all them, the mother role and the professional role were the two that conflicted the most. One major thing that was found to contribute a lot to the stress and had to be taken into account was gender role/stereotypes. In coping with the stress many of the mothers were forced to adopt different strategies that were mainly categorized into two main strategies, problem-focused and emotional-focused strategies.
Many of them preferred to utilize a strategy that leaves conflict/stress reduction as a responsibility of the individual. This means that while the work load/ demand remained the same they chose to work harder and more efficiently. Not only physically but also mentally, they changed their personal role concepts. Furthermore, there were factors that influenced their decision making in choosing the coping strategies. Some of these factors also affected the effectiveness of their coping. Personal and situational resources such as self-esteem, spousal and social support was seen to actually reduce the mothers’ stress hence increased their coping effectiveness. The extent of the women’s career involvement and the amount of social support they received, greatly affected their choices in deciding which strategy to take in order to satisfy the demand of their roles.
THE STRESS OF ROLE STRAIN ON PROFFESSIONAL MOTHERS AND THEIR COPING STRATEGIES.
Working mothers are among many parents who struggle with the everyday life to make ends meet. These struggles are basically the effort of trying to balance many roles in their lives. One downside of having multiple roles is that they always end up causing roles strain. With that, some mothers have experienced stress. Regardless of stress, many have adopted strategies that help them cope with role strain.
Before the 20th century women’s roles were to stay at home and raise children while the husbands were the predominant breadwinners. Gradually as times changed, especially after World War II, many women left their homes to join the labor force. Later with the implementation and enforcement of the equal employment opportunities (EEO) laws that allowed workplaces to become more diverse, more and more women were seen to join the labor force. Others did so due to economic reasons that come with having a family.
Despite becoming professionals, many women still are faced with domestic responsibilities once at home. Unlike working men of whom their jobs end at work, working women continue with work (household chores) even when they get home. And for those women that have children, especially young children (infants to preschoolers), the demands of family roles increases. In this case the most demanding family roles are the roles of a mother and a spouse. Unfortunately for these mothers and/or anyone else for that matter, trying to satisfy both work and family roles causes conflicts and eventually ends up causing them role strain. Though all parents experience some sort of role strain, working mothers experience it the most. This is due to unequal division of work at home. One factor that contributes to this is gender role stereotypes.
Gender stereotype is the major factor that implicates role strain in working mothers. Throughout time gender stereotypes have been used to describe what men and women ought to do or behave in a given society. While women are expected to be more sympathetic, intuitive and caring, men are expected to be quite the opposite. They have to to be more competitive, adventurous and strong. These two qualities are referred to as communal and instrumental qualities, for women and men respectively.
With this in mind, men tend to perform duties that involve the use of strength such as yard work, mechanical work (car repairs) etc. Women’s duties however do not require strength. Women are expected and have been for a long time performing most of the household chores such as cooking, cleaning etc. Not only that, but since women are the ones who bear children they are also expected to take care of them. Some of these stereotypes are supported by scientific evidence which shows that men and women are genetically different. These differences are studied in evolutionary psychology which “traces the origins of gender roles to solutions our primitive ancestors evolved in response to problems they faced millions of years ago” (Bjorklund & Bee, 2008). In the end mothers juggling both work and family roles, always end up with role strain.
According to some studies, the excess of role demands is not what actually causes role strain but rather “the individual’ psychological commitment to their social roles “(O’Neil & Greenberger, 1994). No matter the demand, if a person chooses to perceive them as burdensome then they would be less committed in them. They would invest more time in role demands that they feel doesn’t consume too much of their time and/or energy. One would think that high dual commitment in both work and family matters would cause high levels of role strain. Nonetheless that is not the case. Role strain is definitely always there but it is the questions of whether it increases or not. The answer is not so easy to predict. O’Neil and Greenberger’s study, from the Universities of Riverside and Irvine, found that the level of role strain was different when they evaluated two types of working mothers.
They compared mothers with higher job positions such as managers and mothers who were lower in status or with jobs that were not very satisfying. Even though both types were highly committed in both work and parenting (balanced commitments), only the managers/professionals expressed less role strain. One question that arises here is, how is that so given that managerial positions require longer work hours? And the answer is that, “objective time demands are not the critical issue in adults’ experience of role strain” (Mark, 1977).
Additionally, O’Neil and Greenbergers found that in unbalanced commitments, such as high job commitment and less parental commitments, professional mothers experienced less role strain. The unprofessional mothers however, were quite the opposite; they reported less role strain when they placed higher parental commitment than job commitment. This result was easily explained by the identity theory; “when the work role is highly salient to one’s identity, work of a kind that elicits higher esteem from others and affords more challenge may generate less stress; when the work is less central to one’s identity, however, work that is less scrutinized by others and less demanding may generate less strain” (O’Neil & Greenberger, 1994). Whatever the degree of commitment to work and family roles, trying to balance them sometimes leaves the mothers stressed.
The general perception is that role strain almost always leads to stress. Nevertheless there has been some confusion as to whether having multiple roles actually increases stress hence reducing an individual’s well-being. Nordenmark, from Umea University in Sweden, conducted an investigation as to whether multiple social roles (such employment and parental roles) affected individual’s well-being. In his study he acknowledged and noted that mothers, more than other people, experience more conflicting work and family demands.
Even so, unlike previous researches his findings showed that multiple social roles increased individual’s well-being. Nordemark pointed out that multiple roles provided benefits to many people, both men and women. “For women, a stronger involvement in employment will increase their economic resources, which in turn will adjust the power relations within households and increase women’s control over their lives.” (Nordenmark, 2004). His results however, did not address mothers working in poor work environments such as those with insecurities and poor supervisor support. In all the cases (high stress or not) women have learned to adopt coping strategies in order to relieve the strain of multiple roles. Not only the mothers themselves have found ways of coping, but also workplaces have had an influence in this matter too.
Nowadays many organizations (workplaces) have programs that assist their employees with coordinating their work and non-work roles. Warren and Johnson study have examined three specific resources which were family-friendly organizational culture, supportive supervisory practices and family-oriented benefits. The first one family-friendly organizational culture meant that “the overacting philosophy or belief structure is sensitive to the family needs of its employees and is supportive of employees who are combining paid work and family roles” (Warren ; Phyllis, 1995).
The second refers to the supervisor’s flexibility (work scheduling, coming in late and/or leaving early) and sensitivity (for example allowed personal/family phone calls at work). The last resources on the list are employee’s benefits provided at work such as sick days, flextime (helps with daycare fees), short term leave, vacation time (paid time off) and leave in lieu of overtime. The findings of the study determined that all three of the work-related resources played a significant part in alleviating the women’s role strain. Similarly, other strategies that women have developed themselves personally have also been seen to play a significant part especially whenever there are no workplace coping resources.
In 1984 two researchers, Elman and Gilbert thoroughly investigated different strategies that working mothers have developed themselves to cope with role strain apart from the work-related coping recourses mentioned above. The scales used to asses the coping strategies were Structural Role Redefinition, Personal Role Redefinition, Increased Role Behavior, Cognitive Restructuring and Tension Reduction. The first three are problem-focused strategies and the last two are emotion-focused strategies. In a few words, Structural Role Redefinition involves negotiating with others for instance, arranging/negotiating work and personal schedules with employers or spouses respectively. Personal Role Redefinition means altering one’s own perception of which role is more important. Increased Role Behavior entails that the responsibility for strain/stress reduction remained with the individual.
This means that while the work load or demands remained the same, the mothers chose to work harder and more efficiently. Cognitive Restructuring are attitude changes in modifying conflict meaning. Tension Reduction involves behaviors that are overt and that reduce stress. Generally many women use more that one coping strategies, and some more than others depending on specific demands. Elman and Gilbert found that women with young children, who are usually young themselves and are at the beginning of their careers, preferred to use Increased Role Behavior to a greater extent. Cognitive Restructuring and Personal Role Redefinition were their second choices. All of these strategies did not decrease the women’s role demands but rather the women worked harder and changed their personal role concepts to meet the demands. Furthermore, the study examined factors that influenced the women’s decision making in choosing coping strategies.
There were four major reasons as to why the women chose those specific coping strategies. The first reason was since many were young and therefore at the start of their career, they felt that they could not negotiate for any sort of structural change. This is due to the fact that many jobs can be very demanding and not very secure for anyone at the beginning of his/her career. Secondly, there were obstacles that the women faced such as skeptical attitudes about the competence of women as professionals (in comparison to men) and also their ability in balancing/managing both work and family.
As a result, many mothers strived to balance their role demands in order to feel good and get sense of personal accomplishment. The third reason was simply due to guilt. Many of these working mothers felt guilty to neglect their parental role and hence did not want to be perceived as “bad mothers”. With young children that deeply needed them, they felt compelled to fulfill their obligations as parents/mothers. Lastly was social support. This was the only reason why the young mothers chose to use more Structural and Personal Role Redefinition as their strategies in coping with role strain. Social support provided assistance with the women’s role demands. To finish, Elman and Gilbert’s study also looked into factors that influenced the effectiveness of role strain coping
Personal (self-esteem) and situational resources (spousal and social support) are the major factors in coping effectiveness. As mentioned before spousal and social support not only affectes women’s decision making in choosing coping strategies, but also they increase coping effectiveness. Spousal and social support provides emotional support and assistance in performing household responsibilities. Emotional support allows the mothers to freely commit to their careers and not feel guilty integrating family and work.
Several other studies also supported the findings that “self-esteem is associated with greater coping effectiveness” (Hamburg & Adams, 1967). Sometimes just the gratification they get from managing work and family psychologically helps them cope with stress. Many who chose to use more Increased Role behavior and Cognitive Restructuring strategies, experienced greater coping effectiveness. The reason was simply because the women did not recognize structural changes as an alternative that was feasible.
The findings in this review focus on the role strains that face everyday working mothers, of whom have young children (infants to preschoolers). The investigations cited here mostly were centered on dual-career earners. Additional research has to be done to further address the strains and stress that faces all kinds of women such as mothers with older children, single mothers, first time mothers, mothers with sick children, mothers of different races etc. The good thing is that, no matter any woman’s situations, work and parental roles are becoming more and more equally divided between men and women.
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