Sunday 22 April 2018

'Motherhood and work just don't go together in Ireland'

New book reveals the 'superhuman efforts' working mums must go to

A new book has revealed the 'superhuman' efforts working mothers go to
A new book has revealed the 'superhuman' efforts working mothers go to
Clare O'Hagan
Aideen Sheehan

Aideen Sheehan

MOTHERHOOD and employment are not compatible in Irish society, a new study into the lives of working women has found.

Women are forced into making "superhuman efforts" to be working mothers, Clare O'Hagan of the University of Limerick found in research for her new book.

Ms O'Hagan said it was very disappointing things were not getting better for working mothers 40 years after the lifting of the marriage bar - which used to force women to give up work after they married.

One mother interviewed for the book described having the birth of her third baby induced so she could get back to work within three days.

The woman, a lecturer, had skipped maternity leave on her first three children.

"And then I went with my fourth and asked for maternity leave, I was told it was going to be very disadvantageous for my colleagues.

"But I had to for health reason, I had to take leave. But it was very uncomfortable and very stressful."

Another woman described how her only time for herself was doing the ironing at 2am because she didn't have to tend to her partner, her children or her job at that time of the night.

The author of 'Complex Inequality and Working Mothers' Ms O'Hagan said conditions had got even worse during the recession.

Many women were fearful of losing their jobs during the downturn, if they didn't comply with all their employers' demands. Working life was still organised as if everyone had someone at home to tend to family duties, and many mothers were unable to keep this up.

Official statistics show that 86pc of childless women work, whereas that slumps to 57pc of those with children aged three or under. Even when children reach the age of six or over, just 58pc of mothers work.

By contrast the proportion of childless men working is 85pc and this falls just to 79pc when their children are very young.

Women's unpaid workload is far higher than men, and adds up to a full month more of work per year, with less free time to enjoy life.

As well as doing far more housework and childcare, many women also cared for elderly relatives - including sometimes for their in-laws, as men did not feel the same pressure to do this.

Ms O'Hagan said that women ended up blaming themselves for the fact that they found it impossible to combine motherhood with full-time work.

"People are left to their own devices to sort out their childcare arrangements," she said.

"If it doesn't work out, they feel like it's their fault, instead of the fact that our society does nothing to help them."

The absence of a register of qualified childminders was symptomatic of this, she argues.

Women are often told private childminders are the best alternative to a mother's care but this was organised on an ad hoc basis, unlike other countries such as Denmark and Sweden which had systems in place to facilitate it.

Irish Independent

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