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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
Parenting: Have we got the balance right?

Two recently published surveys have confirmed the difficulties many working parents face in bringing up children today.

Research carried out by Top Sante magazine reveals that 93% of mothers who work full-time feel stressed as they try to cope with all the demands made on them, and that this stress is carried over to their families.

A separate survey commissioned by four charities says that fathers have a vital role to play in supporting the educational achievements and social stability of their children.

Are working parents damaging their children's development? Do fathers have a greater role to play? Or is the pull of traditional role models too strong? Will we ever get the balance right?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

The birth rate would be practically zero

Janet Gladstone, UK
If all couples waited until the time that their circumstances were "right" to have children (enough money, security etc.) then the birth rate would be practically zero. These days, when a pair of decent shoes for a 4 year old costs £25.00, two wages are almost essential unless one partner earns a fortune. Don't put extra stress on working parents by telling us we are doing wrong. Most of us would give up work tomorrow if we could afford to.
Janet Gladstone, UK

I disagree with Lisa, Wales when she says "would any sane individual trust the other enough to assume they will continue to do this (support them financially) for the next fifty years?" No one is asking a parent to leave the workforce completely. One parent (mother or father) should leave the workforce or at least work part-time for the first couple of years of a child's life. These years are too important to be left to a stranger. I don't know about the UK but in the USA with the cost of day care and the tax benefits for having a dependent spouse and child the amount that a second income contributes is so small it is often easier for one parent to give up working for a couple of years than many couples think.
Jeff Garner, USA

Are working parents damaging their children's development? It all depends on the parents in question. There are many examples of working parents who have managed to raise children into successful professional adults. It is just a matter of finding a way to work round the schedule. I believe that children of working parents will grow up to be more mature if their parents share their working experiences. But of course, we should not end up complaining about our job woes as this will have an adverse effect on the child instead.

This topic is truly subjective. The balance that any family achieves varies from another family's. Whatever the case, it has to be worked between the couples to try to attain the balance for their families.
Jaimie, Singapore

More attention has to be made of the fathers. As with all things the man is regularly forgotten. UK men working the longest hours in Europe still would like to be able to spend time with their kids but sadly men and their wishes are never on the agenda or given much notice.

The problem is that the government should be encouraging both partners to participate in parenting and bringing up their children and parents should accept that it is their duty. Not only are men forgotten about but more often than not, we see the government and parents themselves offloading their parenting duties onto others, such as teachers and government is increasingly legislating to take more and more of the responsibility for the upbringing of children away from the parents and onto others and society as a whole.
Ian, Scotland

It appears to me that stress in the workplace has increased over the years and it would be silly to say that it cannot affect your home life. The other stressful part of life is that children's expectations are greater. They see their friends in designer clothes so they want the same. They want to go to all the after school clubs and so on. This means that less quality time is spent with their parents.
Ian, UK

Two parents who have to work in order to survive even on a basic level

Lisa, Wales
Simple. When people leave university these days, they are usually heavily in debt. They then need to buy a (modest) house and a (modest) car to travel to work in! Add to that the cost of a baby's food, nappies etc and you get ... two parents who have to work in order to survive even on a basic level. And even in those rare circumstances when one partner earns enough to support the family, would any sane individual trust the other enough to assume they will continue to do this for the next fifty years? Probably not.
Lisa, Wales

As usual no consideration of what the children themselves want. Ask them, go on, I dare you!
Chris Worrallo, UK

Working mothers are not helping their kids grow into well-adjusted adults with good values, particularly with kids being in day-care, which is usually not much more than a parking lot for children. The stresses of work, for mothers, increases the likelihood of physical, emotional or verbal abuse. The traditional role models worked fine for generations. I see no need to change it.
Jeff, USA

We have developed a strong sense of teamwork

Karen Morgan, UK
I have 2 wonderful children and a full time career. My husband also works full time. We have no family or nanny to help - so we have developed a strong sense of teamwork - which works for us. We feel we are a happy, well-balanced family - and often receive feedback to endorse this. If anyone believes they can tell me that I'm a worse Mum for working - or that I love my children any the less - then I question who really has the problem!
Karen Morgan, UK

Every child has different needs. Some thrive on attention, some thrive being given plenty of space. It's the responsibility of each set of parents to identify what is best for their children, and do their best to provide it. There are no simple solutions, other than TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN LIVES!
Rhys Jaggar, England

My mother worked every single day of my childhood and it broke her heart. Due to financial circumstances she had no choice. I believe if you can afford not to work, don't, your children's early years are too precious to miss.
Suzanne McMillan, Japan (UK)

People must realise that having children changes your life beyond all recognition

Mark Gurney, UK
I am a working father who earns enough to allow my wife to stay at home with our son. This was a mutual choice, it is what we wanted to do. People must realise that having children changes your life beyond all recognition. Nothing will ever be the same again. The problems are different, the stress is different, the issues are different. They can't expect to come out of hospital and pick up where they left off a few months ago.
Mark Gurney, UK

The key to survival is teamwork. Husband and wife should split the duties fairly while the kids are small. As children grow, they should be included in that team and be given jobs within their capabilities. Great opportunities for togetherness, communication and to teach them to be independent and ready for life's chores too. What difference does it make if you have to link it all to pocket money - it helps them to learn about financial control too!
Wendy, UK

I don't see why adults should be made to feel guilty about having a job once their children are in school

Alexandra, USA
I can understand why people would stay home with children before the age of three or four. But I don't see why adults should be made to feel guilty about having a job once their children are in school. In my opinion, it's important for children to see grown-ups being responsible for themselves financially. I would hate for my kids to think that when they are adults, it's someone else's job to pay their way and if they have to work that they're too "stressed out". I work full-time and so does my husband, and when we're home, we spend many active hours with our children hiking, doing craft projects, and being together.
Alexandra, USA

Of course fathers have a greater role to play. Most discussions of this sort seem to assume that Mom is supposed to bear the greater burden for childcare. What rubbish. Men are just as capable childcare providers as women and should not shirk their responsibilities.
Peter Nelson, USA

We have to work all the hours God sends to fund women's decisions to have children

Ray, UK
"Men need to do more". Rubbish, we have to work all the hours God sends to fund women's decisions to have children. At the end of the day it's their choice. Try to argue it and you lose. That's why men have to pay child maintenance and give half their hard earned money to the woman who decides she wants a divorce and stays at home to look after the children!
Ray, UK

I am a secondary school teacher, with a 4-year-old daughter. My husband works in IT so we don't need the money I earn, although we use it for perks, such as giving our daughter the opportunity to go to private nursery. In my view it is essential to get the right balance. If I wasn't a teacher with long holidays I wouldn't work full time, but neither would I stay at home all day. I resent it when people say that when their kids were young they were lucky and didn't HAVE to work. Neither do I, I choose to.
Danielle, UK

A truly equal solution to the problems faced by working parents would be for employers to offer more part-time employment. Then each parent could work part-time and everyone would be happier.
Anna, New Zealand

When will women realise that they can't have it all? Life just doesn't work like that. You have a choice; you can have a family life or you can have a work life. One is not more important than the other except if you think it is. Men don't get this choice. Where's the six months paternity leave to equal what women get, where's the surveys into fathers' stress levels caused by working every possible hour to build a career and still having to be a husband/ father support system when you get home. Who dies younger? Which sex has the highest suicide rate? Who is really stressed out?
George, SW London

Children need quality time with both parents

Gaynor, New Zealand
The world is changing all the time. If the woman of the house works and contributes a good portion of the income, then men should do household duties as well! Children need quality time with both parents, so if both share the workload, everyone benefits!
Gaynor, New Zealand

When I have kids if my wife earned more than I did and we could survive on her salary I'd love to be able to drop out of the rat race and look after them full time. It's almost beyond doubt that kids do better when one of their parents looks after them full-time. Whether that parent is the mother (as is traditional) or the father (as is increasingly common) makes little difference. At the end of the day you can't have everything and you have to decide what's most important.
Dave Tankard, UK

I believe that people have the right to choose what they do. However, I made the choice to give up a professional career in which I earned more than my husband, to have my daughter and bring her up. She is now ten, and I have never regretted the decision. I can truthfully say that there is NOTHING more fulfilling than doing a good job of being a Mum, and I know that my daughter has benefited from my being around whenever she needs me.
Sarah, Australia

It all comes down to money. When childcare costs as much as a mortgage it simply becomes unmanageable for most families. Just as there is free nursery education, there should be free childcare for those who wish to return to work.
Jez, UK

As a child of two full-time working parents I can honestly say that I was little affected

Hazel, UK
As a child of two full-time working parents I can honestly say that I was little affected, except that as my brother and I got older we were expected to muck in with basic chores like doing the dishes, keeping our rooms tidy and peeling a potful of potatoes for tea. Other responsibilities included being home by 21h00 during the week and asking our parents first if we wanted to invite friends home, which are good rules in themselves regardless of whether the parents work or not. Where things can go wrong is when the mother of school age children has to work full-time with insufficient or non-existent backing from her partner, when she ends up managing home as well as trying to hold down a job at the same time.
Hazel, UK

I really believe that women have made life more difficult for themselves - not only do we have to go out and work now but we are expected to mother children... now that women have gained the respect they demanded (well, in this country anyway) can't we just accept our role as nurturer and get back to what really is important and that is raising the people of the future - it all starts in the home. I am still only young and will probably start a family soon but I truly believe that kids should have someone at home and the perfect person for the role would be 'Mum' - what a pleasure compared to working 9-5.
Junita Cooper, UK

This is one of those endless debates that always seems designed to make working mothers feel guilty

Erica, UK
This is one of those endless debates that always seems designed to make working mothers feel guilty. Every child has two parents - whether or not they are both around. Those parents must choose the best way to support their children - emotionally, financially and in every other respect. My personal situation demands that both my husband and I work. If we must work, why not strive for better jobs and better pay to provide something more for our children? So what if this finances exotic holidays - at least then we can really get away from the rat race and spend quality time together, memorable times that we all treasure. It seems many here would rather that parents (especially mums) only just made ends meet and remained at the downtrodden lower end of the workforce.
Erica, UK

My mother has always worked (she was a primary school teacher) and I felt proud of having a working mother, although she wasn't always in the best of moods with her three children. I never considered giving up my job to raise my son. True, it's tiring when children are still young and need day care, but parents are still young and full of pep during these ten years or so and then a non-working mother inevitably finds herself useless and deserted at the age of forty, when her children grow older. Sticking to one's job is worth the effort!
Rocher, France

There's too much of this I, I, I and not enough we, we, we!

Bob, UK
Those people saying "why should I support other people's children/lifestyle choice?" are being very short-sighted. We should all keep in mind that we all need children to be produced and cared for to provide the future workforce that will support and care for us in our old age. Therefore how the family and work are balanced by parents should be a matter of concern to all of us. I want to see well balanced children coming from stable homes/families so that we can all enjoy our future. If we don't care about the children and their parents now, why should they care about us when we need them? There's too much of this I, I, I and not enough we, we, we!
Bob, UK

The biggest problem with the idea that a woman should stay home and take care of the kids is that it leaves her extremely vulnerable if there comes a time when her husband decides he no longer wishes to support her financially (or where he is no longer able to support her). By that stage, having potentially spent years out of the workplace, it will be extremely difficult to break into the market at a salary level to provide anything other than a most basic standard of living. I for one would not be prepared to be fully reliant on anyone else to provide for me and therefore the only solution must be a more balanced share of financial and childcare responsibilities.

Having kids is a lifestyle choice

Jay, UK
Having kids is a lifestyle choice: you either work or have a family. If it turns out that a one-wage family can't afford to have a child, then you shouldn't be starting a family.
Jay, UK

The bottom line is that, if you go out to work full-time and try to raise children, one or the other is not being done properly. Many women have no choice if their family income is low, but many others do and it is this group where perhaps the father's role should come under most scrutiny as affluence makes many more options possible.
Steve, UK

We should be working towards a society where it is not about 'working mothers', but 'working parents'

John Beadle, Ireland
Ultimately we should be working towards a society where it is not about 'working mothers', but 'working parents'. We bend over backwards to make sure WOMEN get the choice of working or staying home (which is a good thing) but men are chained to their desks more firmly than ever before (which is not so good). Fathers are perceived to have a smaller role not by choice, and not because men have less parenting potential than women - just less choice. When was the last time there was a report on Working Fathers, because that's what most of us fathers are!
John Beadle, Ireland

Did we really need a survey to tell us what would appear to be basic common sense? When both parents were encouraged to work, the employer got two for the price of one, more men lost their jobs and ultimately the children paid the price.
Robert, UK

Balance? What balance? We are living in a world where you could be sued in court for disciplining your unruly child. Bah! Humbug!

Bear in mind that there is a rising number of children whose parents have separated or divorced

Robin Randall, UK
Bear in mind that there is a rising number of children whose parents have separated or divorced. It is important to recognise the role of the father in such situations. My experience is that he often meets institutionalised prejudice when attempting to maintain meaningful levels of contact with his children. The beneficial effects on a child's education and upbringing of significant continuing contact with its father should be recognised in a greater willingness from the courts and the Court Welfare Service to award shared residence as provided for in the Children's Act.
Robin Randall, UK

I get a bit tired of seeing this cast as a "women's" problem. If more men did their share of housework and parenting, the issue would not be so big. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are a lot of men out there who do, and some who would like to but can't because this country has the most ridiculous working hours. Phil is right - it should be teamwork. But the men's and women's work thing is as strong today as it ever was. Fathers, they're your kids too!
Kate, UK

Who is putting about this idea that full-time mums are not required to use their brains, whereas people who work outside the home are being intellectually challenged? Most people are not rocket scientists - I trained as a chartered accountant and have been 'at home' for 3 years with my kids and I find it very insulting when parents say they would 'go crazy' if they couldn't go out to work. Life at home with kids is what you make it - a walk in the park, visiting friends and new places, teaching your kids new things.
Gabrielle Johnson, USA

For a start we can provide the option for parents to combine their taxation affairs

Karl Peters, UK
For a start we can provide the option for parents to combine their taxation affairs. Why two parents earning £30k each should pay so much less tax than one earning £60k and the other earning nothing is beyond me. At least this would provide more people the option, if they so chose, of having one parent staying at home. Improved New Labour are so hell-bent on destroying the traditional family I can't see it ever happening.
Karl Peters, UK

Stress trickles down on children. Please remember that, Mom and Dad.
Robert del Valle, USA

'Stress' is relative. 60 years ago 'stress' would have been the possibility of a large bomb falling on your head at any moment. I hardly think that being late for the child minder in the morning falls in the same category. Most of this 'stress' is self-induced.
Andrew Carter, UK

Both men and women have very important and very different jobs in life

Jill, Canada
Both men and women have very important and very different jobs in life. I dropped out of the rat race long ago and am very glad I did. The whole family is much happier and when I get old and look back on my life, I'll have that to remember not how much money I made or always being tired from trying to do it all. Who do you want teaching values to your kids, you or some day-care provider?
Jill, Canada

Having both parents working is not always about 'our materialistic society.' I should imagine that for some families, two incomes means food, heat and a roof.
Wendy, UK

There are two beliefs ingrained into our psyche: first, that housework is "woman's work". This is a destructive belief, and it undermines women. The second is that men should go out to work. This is a very positive belief which allows children's needs to be met. Please, let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. Women cannot be expected to work full-time AND raise their family, which is what is expected of them, ironically, by today's "feminist" society.
Tim Green, England

It's a matter of choice

John B, UK
It's a matter of choice. If you want children you have to make sacrifices. New cars, holidays and big houses are not essential whatever anyone may care to say. If you consider keeping up with the Jones's more important than bringing up your children then don't complain about stress. The most absurd cases are when one parent works for a low wage and then spends virtually all of it on childminding. Wake up - you're working for nothing while an 18-year-old watches your TV and your child cries itself to sleep!
John B, UK

I'm single and not a parent. It feels like my job is too much and I certainly couldn't handle any other responsibility on top of it. Parents who work must be really stressed out. One of the less tolerable features of our modern society is the assumption by the state, mortgage companies, estate agents and employers that both parents will go to work in order to put a roof over the family's head. This is reflected in the ratio of house prices to earnings. You need a double income just to have a home, and that's before you've fed and clothed any offspring.

As a father who leaves home at 4.30am to travel to work and often does not get home until after 7pm, I feel that I'm not giving my young daughter all the help and support that she needs. In my case I earn just enough for my wife to be able to stay at home, but the vast majority of people can't afford to do that. I think that the Government must decide just how important an issue this is and adjust their tax strategy accordingly.
Paul R, UK

I believe that in an ideal world it would be great if one parent could stay at home to raise a child in its early years whilst the other works

John Ellis, UK
As an expectant father, I believe that in an ideal world it would be great if one parent could stay at home to raise a child in its early years whilst the other works. However, the other parent would need to be a high earner to cover the lost earnings of the other partner and this Government's tax regime is punitive to those of us who do this.
John Ellis, UK

I always feel that the stress of long hours and a hectic lifestyle is exacerbated by a transport system that makes the journey home into a real fight every night. Hardly conducive to arriving home in a family mood.
Richard Hughes, UK

My wife chose not to return to work in order to provide the best upbringing for our children (now 6 and 3) In her view, this life is no less stressful than being at work, and sometimes less so! It's certainly more boring, often less satisfying and the social status attached is considerably lower. She wants empathy and understanding rather than extra government money, though the opportunity cost of giving up work would leave many families below the breadline. Perhaps an extension of maternity pay to allow women to take a career break?
Andy Millward, UK

Only mothers are suffering are they? That's rich! Fathers Day is just around the corner, and came into being because an American lady, Sonora Smart Dodd, having been raised by her father, realised how much he had done for her, and that fathers should be given more recognition. The day was officially recognised by President Lyndon Johnson. I suggest that there are many more fathers out there who do carry their weight supporting their family properly, but they don't make the news. It should be teamwork folks!
Phil W, UK

My mum stopped work for the years before I started school, which I firmly believe was an important factor in my subsequent development (I am now at Cambridge University). My Dad was able to arrange his schedule to allow him to take care of me on occasions when I was at home once Mum had restarted work. I realise that I am very lucky to have had such a childhood, and am definitely in the minority, but I think employers and the Government should do their best to allow more families to do the same.
Sarah, UK, resident in France

I think the emphasis needs to be made on fathers taking more of a role in family life

Jane Ellis, England
I think the emphasis needs to be made on fathers taking more of a role in family life. We should put aside stereotypes that designate that certain roles are 'women's work' and certain roles are for men and create an environment in society that allows both partners to care for their children equally. Men need to do more, the question shouldn't be that women need to make a choice between the home and work as we enjoy using our brains, having careers and being employed. Modern women relish having their own bank accounts and having some independence from their men. Men and women need to work in partnership with each other to create a better society and stable home environment for their children.
Jane Ellis, England

Both myself and my wife work full-time. We have two children, aged 8 and 4 and we have just found out that we have another one on the way! My wife works 6am to 2pm Monday to Friday and it is very hard going for both of us. The thing is that we are used to two salaries coming in, so my wife feels that she is stuck. If she could give up work to become a full-time mum, she would resign today!
Dave, UK

It's a shame that the problems faced by some parents are being expressed as a woman's problem. However, a survey among readers of a women's health magazine is likely to be skewed because the sample is made exclusively of women interested in their health (note: no male parents).
Nick, UK

Stress is not confined to parents. Those of us who get left to do the extra work and pay for the extra child-related benefits also feel stress. It's my choice not to have children but parents also choose too.
Susan, UK

It is interesting that only mothers of young children are mentioned. What of other working carers? Caring for a severely disabled parent/ sibling is as stressful, whilst working full-time which I have to do as there is only me to support myself and disabled relative. Emptying a commode is the same as potty-emptying. It is harder to pick up and comfort an adult who falls. The carers of adults are usually much older than those with young children. And don't forget - the children will grow up - our relatives can't grow new bodies. Don't neglect us just because we don't have children.
Sue D, UK

Isn't it therefore a matter of priorities?

Elesa Artrey, England
One of the comments made was that we live in a materialist society, which in turn forces parents to spend less time with their families while they work for more money to keep up. Isn't it therefore a matter of priorities... putting your family on a higher level than working late to buy for a bigger car?
Elesa Artrey, England

It's simple. Think very carefully before you have children. If you think you will be unable to cope with the pressure of work and family, don't have children unless one of the parents can afford to stay off work. People should remember that children are a lifestyle choice and if you want something really badly you may have to make sacrifices for it.
Lisa, UK

No professional child minder, psychologist, care centre, kindergarten, crèche etc, can replace Mum. It's terribly un-PC; frightfully old fashioned, unexcitingly traditional, but nevertheless true.
Deana, UK

Only women are suffering stress..that's good to hear. Men too are suffering the same balancing act of kids, home and work not to mention being the punchbag for their stressed out wives.
Gerry, Scotland

We live in a materialist society where few parents can provide what they and their children want (as opposed to need) on a single wage. Of course women get stressed out having to raise a family and work but to those people who advocate paying mothers to stay at home - where exactly will the money for this come from?
Gill, UK

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12 Jun 01 | Education
Fathers help pupils achieve
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