Five years ago, when I decided to attend Trinity Western, I planned my education around becoming a successful businesswoman. However, over the course of my first and second year I became increasingly aware that an exciting career was not the only thing I had in mind for my future – I was also looking forward to becoming a mother one day. This led me to wrestle with what I believed to be two conflicting aspirations.
Desiring to be successful as both a “career woman” and “mother” was a very intimidating thought. I second guessed the appeal of the corporate world and began wrapping my head around the idea that I may need to choose a career path better suited to my (one-day-down-the-road) family.
This skeptical mindset followed me into my third year, when I was given the opportunity to work in the communications department of a large Vancouver-based company. I had the privilege of working with a manager who I both respected and looked up to. She was determined, hard-working, professional and – wait for it—a mother of two young children.
When I realized her success as a businesswoman and mother I immediately thought, why am I sitting here thinking I can’t manage both roles when there are examples of women who can? I started to wonder if there were other female university students who shared my original concerns. Is it possible young women feel limited when it comes to work-family balance? I had a newfound passion to find out the answer to that question.
I began to generate my own research on young women’s expectations of work-family balance. I created a study that consisted of two separate groups of women, each of whom answered an online survey I created called the Working Women’s Life Balance Questionnaire. The questionnaire measured a woman’s experiences balancing the roles of worker and mother. The first group of participants consisted of female TWU undergraduate students who responded to the survey according to how they expected they would feel balancing the roles of worker and mother. The second group was comprised of TWU alumni who had at least one child and had returned to the workforce. They responded to the survey questions according to how they felt in their current situation.
Interestingly enough, the results of my study indicated that students perceived the experience of balancing both roles to be more negative than it actually is, especially in the areas of anxiety, effect on children, monetary satisfaction and role satisfaction.
Anxiety: Mothers were better at relaxing as well as controlling their fears and negative thoughts than students expected. They were also less irritable and in a better mood than what students believed would be the case.
Effect on Children: Students believed that their career would cause a loss of quality time and connection with their child; however, mothers indicated this was not the case.
Monetary Satisfaction: Students anticipated they would be less adequately compensated for their career efforts and would feel more pressure to return to the workforce for financial reasons than the working mothers experienced.
Role Satisfaction: Working mothers were more proud of the way they handled their multiple roles than students foresaw. They felt much more fulfilled and satisfied with their ability to integrate both roles into one.
Ultimately, my research indicated that mothers in the workforce are very good at balancing their career and their family life. They appear to be quite content in both roles and have a good handle on the bigger issues that have the potential to provide conflict. In order to remain successful in these bigger areas, tedious, everyday tasks are given lowest priority. University students did not anticipate this. For mothers, if something has to give, it is going to be the laundry, or picking up the groceries, rather the success of their marriage or their relationship with their child. Working mothers have the exceptional ability to prioritize what most people would believe to be the more important concerns of career and family, which leads to their overall success in both roles.
I’m ready to embrace whatever life stage comes my way. I am motivated by what working mothers have shown they are capable of accomplishing, and look forward to an exciting and fulfilling future ahead. I hope that my research can encourage other women just like it did me.
Melissa Horahan (’15) did her BA in Psychology Honors. She completed her research for her undergraduate thesis with help from the Alumni Association. After spending the summer travelling, she recently started a new position.