Dust bunnies, babies and workplace flexibility

The morning light filtering into my kitchen illuminates the dust bunnies scampering on the floor amid the fragments of fallen leaves that get tracked in the back door. Luckily, I'm pretty good at ignoring it, because my husband usually makes sweeping the kitchen floor his first order of business. But, an ability to ignore housekeeping tasks appears to be prevalent among working mothers. 

A University of California researcher who studied time diaries found that as women participate more in the labor force, they shed hours of housekeeping, but do everything they can to protect their childrearing time. Suzanne M. Bianchi, who has been a longtime scholar in this field, presented her paper at the Focus on Workplace Flexibility seminar held in Washington last week. Interestingly, maternal time spent in childcare is the same as, or more, than in the 1960s, when fewer women worked, according to her paper titled "Family Change and Time Allocation in American Families."

So what are working women giving up (other than housework)? They are giving up leisure and sleep, Bianchi found. No surprise there. But regardless of whether they are working or not, most mothers say they have too little time for themselves. Working women with young children, if they can, attempt to cut back on work hours, even though this has long-term negative consequences for their own financial wellbeing, especially if marriages dissolve. That outcome is also not surprising, because another place where corners are cut, her study shows, is in time that spouses spend together as a couple.

The way I see it, one of the best reasons to have children is so you can have less guilt about housekeeping. With any luck, you'll have enough time to build up your no-guilt muscle so that even when the kids leave, you don't mind those dust bunnies on the kitchen floor.     

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