UK Working mothers spend 81 minutes a day looking after their children
Published 29/03/2011 | 09:01
Working mothers in Britain spend just 81 minutes each day looking after their children - including mealtimes - a report has found.
It is the dilemma facing every working mother - how to devote enough time to their children, while juggling career demands with household chores.
Now, a new study has disclosed that in Britain, those who work outside the home spend on average one hour 21 minutes a day looking after their families - including meal times.
Stay-at-home mothers managed almost twice as much time directly caring for their children, with 2 hours 35 minutes dedicated to activities like meals, bathtime and playing games, according to the research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The report, which compared surveys in 21 leading industrialised nations found the time UK working mothers spent caring for their children was almost half that in some other countries.
Those in Ireland spent 150 minutes a day caring for their children, while those in Australia managed 137 minutes, with working mothers in the United States, Canada, Italy, Sweden and Spain all spending more time looking after their children than those in Britain.
Family campaign groups said the emotional development of children was being damaged, because too many women felt under pressure to work long hours, while others prioritised careers over time at home.
But psychologists said it was more important how the time caring for children was used, and that less time than 81 minutes could be enough if it included fun activities which were sufficiently bonding.
The report examined how much time parents spent involved in childcare as a "primary activity" - covering things like meals, dressing, playing, and reading bedtime stories to children, and excluding time when the parent's main focus was on another task.
Of all parents, fathers with jobs spent the least time on such care - just 43 minutes a day.
Even when they did not work, fathers spent less time than mothers looking after their offspring - on average just 63 minutes a day - 18 minutes less than a mother who goes out to work.
The statistics for Britain included time spent with children at weekend - meaning that on working days, the average amount of time parents spent caring for their children was even less.
Dr Sandra Wheatley, a family and child psychologist said: "I don't think parenting is a numbers game - the important thing is that children get opportunities to have fun with their parents.
"If a mother gets home from work and spends 45 minutes haring around the living room dressed up as a belly dancer, or making drums out of yoghurt pots, before a quick dinner and bed, that could easily be good enough.
"The important thing is that some of the time is spent on activities that are child-led."
She said it was "curious" that stay-at-home mothers did not spend more of their time directly caring for their children, suggesting the figures might offer some comfort to working women who felt guilty about the time they spent out of the home.
"I think a lot of working mothers might think it's quite surprising - and maybe reassuring - that others who spend their time at home only spend just over an extra hour a day looking after their children."
But Margaret Morrissey, from lobby group Parents Outloud said too many children of working mothers were being short-changed.
She said: "A lot of children growing up in Britain today have no concept of a traditional family life.
"For some children, nurseries and childminders can work very well, but when so many children are spending so little time with their parents, the risk is that their emotional development is damaged."
Across all 21 countries, the research showed distinct differences in the type of childcare that women and men provide.
Mothers spent 60pc of their time on physical care, such as dressing, feeding, changing nappies, providing medical care and supervision.
But fathers were much more likely to spend time on educational and recreational childcare - helping children with their homework, reading and playing games.
They spent 40pc of their childcare time on this compared with 27pc of women.
Earlier this month, BBC newsreader and mother of three Sophie Raworth, provoked debate after disclosing that she is following a US parenting scheme called FAST, which teaches time-starved to give each child 15 minutes of "undivided attention" each day.
She investigated the eight week programme for a BBC Two documentary, Parents Under Pressure, and is now following its guidelines to bring up her children Ella, six, Georgia, five, and three-year-old Oliver.
The number of mothers who stay at home to look after their children has dropped dramatically in the past two decades.
Of women of working age, just two million are at home caring for family members full-time, a figure which includes those looking after elderly relatives, compared to more than 13 million in work.
Justine Roberts, co-founder of parenting website Mumsnet, said Britain's long hours culture made it hard for working mothers to get away from the office.
She said: "There is a culture in this country which means that despite the talk of family-friendly policies, women fear that rushing off early at the end of the day to see their kids will damage their career prospects."
Most parents could simply not afford to manage on one income, or take a pay cut to shorten their hours, she said.
When working mothers did get home, most tried to spend as much time with their offspring as possible, though they often felt stressed and tired, she said.
"Women aren't superhuman - we all end up feeling guilty but sometimes after a long day at work it can be hard to face starting a jigsaw puzzle," she added.