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The 65:35 Split; Why Working Mothers Struggle With Their Health Goals.

Many of my clients are the following; full-time working mother, with two children (or more), wanting to; (a) improve their health, (b) decrease their weight, (c) improve their energy levels and (d) reduce digestive issues.

I work with them recommending variations on action plans that incorporate practical nourishing meal options, various supplements, meditation or mindfulness and moderate exercise. They have limited time between work, homework and family care, but they try their hardest with varying levels of success.

Lack of success on their part doesn’t always result of self-sabotage, weak will, poor motivation, hedonistic tendencies or poor judgement. Lack of success can be attributed to other less obvious factors unique to mothers and in-particular, working mothers.

Three of the most concerning factors are lack of parental parity, chronically high stress levels and lack of sleep. Today I’m focussing on how a lack of parental parity negatively impacts working mothers attaining their health goals.

Parenting is time consuming, looking after a home is time consuming, returning to or maintaining good health takes time. I am not Robinson Crusoe when I tell you that a majority of this unpaid work falls to women whether they are working part or full time.

Working women are responsible for 65% of home and family care, men only 35%.[1] Every time I reference these percentages, I feel no small amount of simmering rage and resentment on all working mothers’ behalf! This disparity is a problem when you are trying to improve your health. In most basic terms, when work, sleep and transit hours are equal it means a woman has approximately 18.2 hours per week for personal care, eating, socialising, pursuing health goals and personal interests. While a man has approximately 33.80 hours per week.  See weekly time allocation example in Table 1.

This equates to a working mother having only 2.6 hours per day to dedicate to eating, personal care, socialising and health activities, not-withstanding disruptions and delays. In other words, not much bloody time at all! Especially when compared to a working father having an average of 4.8hrs a day.

Table 1, Activity Time Allocation (Weekly)

ACTIVITYWORKING MOTHER (Hourly Allocation)WORKING FATHER (Hourly Allocation)
Work5050
Transit To and From Work1010
Sleep5656
Family and Household Care33.818.2
Eating, Fitness, Health, Personal Interests, Socialising18.2033.80
TOTAL HOURS168168
Please note hourly time allotment has been created to illustrate point and may not exactly represent what is occurring in your household / life.

So, the first step towards improving a working mother’s health is the conversation she needs to have with her husband about shifting some of the unpaid childcare and housework across to him. This is easier said than done. Women face a minefield of subconscious, conditioned behaviour linked to perceived masculinity, stereotype threat and male entitlement which can cause many sticking points and the need for ongoing and repeated conversations to reach a worthwhile outcome. Believing humans are innately good and working into conversations your understanding that “he hasn’t meant to be unfair” can help reduce stonewalling and defensiveness.

Some suggestions regarding what a husband can do to work towards equalising family and home care responsibilities are;

  • Plan, cook and clean up after a couple of meals each week.
  • Pick up children from childcare and be responsible for the routine up until bed 2-3 nights per week.
  • Be responsible for the wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, get out the door routine 2 – 3 mornings per week.
  • Do the weekend grocery trip or better yet help work through the switch to online shopping if it hasn’t already occurred and then do the re-ordering once a week.
  • Take on management of all paid activity planning, scheduling and transporting.
  • Take on management of all his family’s birthday and Christmas present buying.

Ultimately there is nothing a husband / male partner cannot do within a family household except breastfeed. Everything else can be learned and easily mastered, it’s not rocket science, its simply time consuming and can sometimes be very un-fun! So, before you give up on your health goals, look at the division of labour in your household and have the hard conversations.

Your health, both physical and mental, are worth it!

Next week, I’ll be chatting about working mothers, chronic stress and why it’s a struggle to lose weight.

Any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch via nereda.merrin@thebalancedbody.com.au


[1] 2011 – 2015, Bureau of Labour Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/tus/tables/a7_1115.pdf Please note this is American data but it is unlikely that Australian men behave significantly different if you are looking for an excuse to ignore this % breakdown.

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