Back to the future - Changing role of motherhood
Are our lives as mums better or worse than previous generations, and how does society view motherhood? A recent report by Procter & Gamble has thrown up some interesting findings
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go back in time and live your life as your mother or grandmother would have done?
Well, that’s exactly what celebrity mum Edith Bowman did as part of a campaign by Procter & Gamble – the company behind brands such as Ariel, Fairy, Pampers and Olay – to investigate the changing role of motherhood from the 1930s to the present day.
As part of the research, she took part in an experiment where her household products were removed and she had to undertake normal domestic tasks without them, just as her grandmother’s generation would have done.
“Having none of my trusted products at my fingertips made me realise just how much life has changed for today’s mums, and I, for one, am very grateful to be a mum right now,” Bowman said of the challenge.
“Having experienced just the smallest taste of life as a 1930’s mum, the product innovations and technologies that we have in our homes today have most definitely given mums more time to focus on other parts of their lives. I can’t imagine how spending all day washing your clothes on a washboard with carbolic soap must have been day in day out, not to mention life before wipes and nappies, as well as the array of beauty and grooming products that make us look and feel good.”
Bowman’s feelings coincide with the majority of Irish and UK mums who were interviewed as part of the P&G research. Its recently published report The Changing Face of Motherhood reveals that while a resounding 75pc of participants feel their mother’s generation were afforded more time to bring up their children as the pressure of work and a career takes mums away from the home, 62pc agreed that labour-saving devices free up their time so they can spend more quality time with their children.
“When I think back to my grandmother and how she ran her home of seven daughters, I just don’t know how she did it,” says Bowman. “That said, I don’t know what I do with that time that should in theory have been freed up – I certainly don’t have time to put my feet up, and I’m pretty sure every mum out there would say the same thing!”
Again this sentiment is borne out in the report which reveals that 40pc of Irish mums feel they have less than an hour per day to themselves. Some 47pc agreed there is a greater pressure to provide children with activities and constant supervision, which puts further pressure on time.
Bowman also commented on the increased pressure on today’s mums to be perfect and have it all.
“Speaking from my own experience, being a mum to a two-year-old boy, and juggling the demands of a career I love, I can empathise with many mums today who feel under pressure to be a ‘super mum’ in an age where the pressure to be perfect feels more acute than ever. That said, there were lots of positive findings [in the report] too – the great support we draw from our own mothers and families, as well as from the transformative effect of powerful online mums’ communities that can give mums a vital lifeline and a strong sense of community.”
Dr Betty Hilliard of UCD School of Sociol¬ogy reviewed the findings to explore the changing role of Irish mums across different generations.
“This report certainly reflects the complexity of parenting today,” she explains. “On the one hand, respondents feel highly valued by their families, yet on the other hand they feel isolated as mothers raising children, have little time to themselves and are frequently torn between the conflicting demands of paid employment and the high expectations which contemporary society has of parents, especially mothers.
“In line with other research, the study highlights the continuing importance of intergenerational bonds in that for most mothers, especially those in the younger age groups, their own mothers were the most commonly cited source of support after husbands/partners,” she adds.
Indeed 18pc of mums think that living closer to their mother is the single most important thing that would improve their quality of life as a mum, according to the report. Mothers-in-law too are appreciated more than ever by today’s mums, being valued as much as a source of help and support as childcare professionals. However, given the support networks available to mums, almost three quarters expressed that they sometimes feel isolated or unsupported as a mother raising children.