Ciska Thurman looks at the impact working long hours has on mothers and their mental health
There is a troubling irony in being a woman (and more specifically, a mother) today: for many, the liberties our suffragette sisters fought to get are not yet readily achievable. Of course, we can vote and work and are liberated from sexist legislation. But can we really have it all – parenthood and a profession? While images in the media say yes, a number of experts in the medical field are now starting to disagree.
Case in point
‘The reality in South Africa is that very few households can survive on a single income. Our current economic climate is putting young families under serious financial strain,’ explains 39-year-old Sherinne, an advertising executive and mother of two. ‘I remember my father joking as I considered my options after varsity: “Does it really matter? You’re only going to become a mother and stay home in the end anyway”.’ For Sherinne, the generation gap meant ‘educating my dad in the opportunities women have today’, but she found it much more difficult ‘actually making a success of becoming a working mom’.
According to a recent poll, the demands of keeping a job, raising children and running a home are taking their toll on SA moms.
Cape Town firm Pharma Dynamics specialises in treating depression and anxiety. The company conducted a survey in 2015 to determine the effect these additional burdens have on the mental and physical health of working mothers. Of the 900 working moms between the ages of 25 and 55 who were polled, 38% are often stretched
to breaking point, with many of them spending up to 80 hours a week taking care of work and home responsibilities. 60% often continue with their work at night or on weekends.
‘Between the many stresses of work, traffic, job advancement and, of course, motherhood – keeping a house, making meals, taking care of the children, and sometimes elderly parents too – there is often no reserve left for mothers on the job,’ explains Wilmi Hudsonberg, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics. Even though many employers offer family-friendly perks (such as flexible scheduling) the majority of jobs have been designed for people who have
no caregiving responsibilities, so often it is the working moms who have to accommodate the company they work for, instead of the other way around.
Paying the price
Most respondents to the survey said that since becoming a working mom, they suffer from at least one of these health problems:
chronic fatigue (47%)
unhealthy weight loss
or weight gain (47%)
being more prone
to colds and flu (33%)
High ongoing stress levels have been linked to mental illness and can also lead to substance abuse and suicidal notions. Feelings of guilt and worry are extremely common as working moms seek solutions to the unease they feel. They find it tough to set aside time to take care of themselves, let alone to reach out for help. This often means the impact of feeling overtaxed and constantly fatigued is recognised too late, after the damage has been done.