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Blurring home and work roles makes telecommuting mothers feel guilty, study finds

March 09, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times

Some see telecommuting as a working mother's best friend.

After all, having access to the office from home -- whether over the phone or through e-mail -- means Mom can be more flexible, fitting in family duties while also getting the workplace job done.  She can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan ... at the same time!  

The only problem, a new study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior reports, is that performing this mighty feat may make her feel guilty.

Paul Glavin, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Toronto, led a team that looked at data from a national survey of working Americans -- men and women.  Women who were contacted frequently by work while away from the office reported feeling higher levels of psychological distress than men who were contacted frequently.  
 
It wasn't that the women didn't have the chops to fulfill their dual roles.  It's that they felt guilty about the way those roles blurred, Galvin said.  "Women were able to juggle their work and family lives just as well as men, but they feel more guilty as a result of being contacted.  This guilt seems to be at the heart of their distress," he said in a statement.

Thus far, the team reported, work-family research has focused on how parents find and allocate resources for work and home.  This research looked instead at emotional aspects of the balancing act.

"Women's employment is often symbolically in competition with their ability to feel like good mothers -- and motherhood is a highly rewarding identity for many women," wrote Glavin and his co-authors.  "Important differences may remain in the meanings that men and women ascribe to work and family roles and the ways in which conditions in these roles interact to influence well-being."

In other words: Women have come a long way, but traditional modes of thinking about parenting retain their sway.  

Last October, Los Angeles Times reporter Shari Roan wrote about the well-being of children of working mothers.  No guilt necessary there: They do OK.  But the picture's less rosy when it comes to the body mass index of kids with working mothers, Roan reported in February.

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