The Working Mothers’ Syndrome


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Is it the first time you hear about the “working mothers’ syndrome”? It’s probably new to many. I’ll explain about it below and give you some answers to frequently asked questions. The “Working Mothers’ Syndrome” is the frustration and its consequences experienced by working mothers who have to joggle between the multiple demands dictated by being a mother and having a career. It results in many negative physical and mental signs that exert their toll on the mothers’ daily functioning. Parenting is already a 24 hours job, so adding to it an external job with more working hours surely adds more stressors to handle. Being a parent and having a career at the same time results in conflicting demands that most parents (both fathers and mothers) have to accommodate for. Since ancient times, society handed down the parenting responsibility mainly to mothers; hence, those mothers who have a career usually carry a heavier load in making all ends meet. The working mothers’ syndrome afflicts mainly high achieving, driven, and ambitious women who want to perfect it all. These women multi-task well; and assume a conscientious responsibility in both roles (at home and on the job). This, however, does not come without a price. Their bodies, eventually, yell to take a break from all the commotion by giving them various signals to slow down.

How does the “Working Mothers’ Syndrome” manifest itself?

Usually it is detected by signs of chronic fatigue (adrenal fatigue) especially if the mother has to work long working hours on the job. She wakes up too tired to go to work and is drained already when she comes back home to continue running errands for the house and the kids. If the kids are very young, her duties are physically more taxing; and this makes the fatigue more pronounced sometimes resulting in burn-out. With excessive and continuous stress, her immunity is diminished and this renders her more susceptible to diseases. Sugar cravings to boost up her energy levels are very common; and depressive mood swings attack often. This is all topped up with overwhelming “guilt” feeling on having to miss out responding, in time, to the conflicting demands necessitated by each role. Stress levels keep rising and her coping mechanism to accommodate to the demands of both the job and the house dwindle with time. This puts the working mother at a high risk of serious chronic diseases (e.g. cholesterol problems, diabetes, heart conditions, etc….).

Does the “Working Mothers’ Syndrome” differ in the Arab culture from that of the Western societies?

The “Working Mothers’ Syndrome” is quite prevalent around the world, as the division of gender roles has existed globally for a long time. The man is expected to be the “bread earner” and the woman is expected to attend to the family’s other needs mainly as a “caretaker”. Such expectations have put women under pressure if they aspired to deviate from the norm of being only a caretaker in the house. To pursue a career that either adds to the family income, or to merely enhance her self-worth, the working mother faces a big challenge in proving she can accommodate to all. The division of gender roles is more defined in the Arab culture, at a time when many women are picking up on the trend of establishing themselves outside the family context in line with Western societies. With fewer Arab men being open to assume household responsibilities to help – unlike the Western societies – Arab career seeking mothers are challenged even more to balance their lives with the added career role.

How can the working mother control the stressful effects on her personally?

A working mother needs to be clear that she wears several hats a day to suit the multiple roles she is involved in (a mother, a career woman, a wife, a daughter, a sister, etc…). The “super mom” notion is a heavy burden, as it is never too easy to balance it all – let alone perfect all roles. If she belonged to the “sandwiched generation” (i.e. being torn in responsibilities around aging parents and growing kids), having a career to top it up is even more taxing. She needs to be realistic that she cannot satisfy all ends impeccably. She already does too much. A working mother needs to intermittently recharge her batteries and de-stress by engaging in self-enhancing activities. This is the only way to remain sane, as giving, and productive. With no strength to hold it all, how else can she keep things together?

How can the working mother protect her children from the negative effects of the Syndrome?

As I mentioned, a working mother is already stressed out from handling too much. Many times that boiling stress spills over in dealing with the kids especially upon returning home from the job to carry on with her motherly duties. Having not seen their mom most of the day, the kids (especially at a younger age) become so clingy and demanding. They become like a shadow following their mom around the house. The mother is advised to create some space – before meeting her kids – to engage in some deep breathing exercise and shift her focus from “job mode” to that of the “house mode”. By giving her kids quality time, the working mother, by far, can make up for her absence compared to a stay-home mom who is just physically around. She needs to gently communicate with her kids her multiple responsibilities and her time availability specifically for them. She, also, needs to constantly remind herself that: “now I will be working on my long-term investment project (i.e. my kids). Before I know it, my kids will be on their own. Let me enjoy them as much as I can now.” A little positive self-talk can change her attitude and arm her a great deal against mounting frustration. And it’s true, at one point, the house will be empty and she has to deal with another challenge: the “empty nest syndrome” (i.e. kids growing up and leaving the house).

What are the effects on the partner?

A working mother would be really lucky if she had a supportive husband who understands how nourishing it is for his wife to have additional value outside the family context. In this case, the mother is better fulfilled; and this has positive effects on the dynamics between all family members (including her partner). When the mother is having an external job to boost the family income, not all husbands release their wives from all the household duties. The latter remain an obligation she carries on her shoulders; and this when the syndrome intensifies affecting everybody around the house. She would probably need to recruit any other family support to help her cope better. If she was working just to enhance her self-satisfaction (not for the added income) and her husband isn’t supportive and she feels burned out, she may need to re-assess the nature of her current job and whether she can find less taxing external duties. Whining about her inability to make all ends meet pushes the husband to suggest her quitting the job (especially if she did not need its income). The decision to work or not is, indeed, a tough one when family responsibilities are overwhelming. In both cases, there are costs entailed. Having the added career is physically taxing; not having one, is psychologically costly. It’s about setting priorities – at each stage in one’s life. Opting to balance to the best she can puts the working mother forever on the seesaw to meet her partner’s needs together with all her other duties.

Are there any more recommendations to handle the negative effects?

Most working women are, in fact, more productive than stay home moms. They become skilled at managing their time better. The negative effects, actually, kick in when the mother drifts endlessly in attending to others’ needs without stopping to “refuel”. She is to schedule short fun activities on her own every so often. By involving their husbands more with the kids, a working mother would surely allow herself some time to catch her breath. If that is not possible, she needs to delegate some of her duties to other family members. A “reality check” is much needed continuously whenever a working mother finds her tolerance levels peeking. Let her ask herself these questions:

–          Do I really need that external job? (Is it a priority?)

–          Am I better off shifting to a part-time job? (What are the opportunities out there?)

–          What can I do to make my life easier?

–          Who can support me? And who can I delegate some of my duties to?

–          How can I re-charge my batteries and attend to my bodily needs?

–          How can I give my kids quality time instead of just being there?

Remember working mothers out there: Parenting is one of those most difficult jobs on earth. A job, you can never easily quit. Your kids, however, will grow up and help you with time. They will be proud to have had a mother who had a career while attending to their needs. Perfection is unattainable. Just opt at balancing to the best you can without forgetting your own physical needs.

  1. June 30, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Sorry I took so long to be able to read this post. It is filled with important thoughts and info for women. Regardless of the changes in Western cultures, I feel more responsibility still falls on women than on men, when it comes to maintaining a home and raising kids. I was interested in how this plays out in Arab cultures and enjoyed reading your thoughts. Sure there are more evolved couples everywhere, but I don’t run into too many of them and when the chips are down, it is more often the woman who deals with sweeping them up and setting things right again. We women do need to remember that when we are raising our families, we are always modeling behavior and communicating our beliefs to our kids about ourselves and about the world. New moms start out with so many high standards and while it’s great to have standards, we should not strive for unattainable ones. We can have careers but somewhere, sometimes, something’s got to give. If young women can only learn early on (and not while mired in crisis) how to find that important balance, how to understand that they are human, and need to care for themselves because they can’t do anything else for anybody without being ok themselves, they will be in a lot better place to go forth into the world career-wise, health-wise and for raising healthy, happy, successful families–especially daughters, but sons, as well.

    Your post was packed with information and with great perspectives.

    Like

    • dddania
      July 1, 2013 at 6:34 am

      Many thanks for taking the time to read this post Iris 😉 your insights do come from having tried it all, I am sure 🙂 🙂 Yes, new Moms set high standards at first. It is “fine-tuning” these to be more real that we learn to do with time (and the hard way) 🙂 🙂
      thaaanks again my friend 🙂

      Like

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