Why do parents of larger families feel less time pressured than others?

How do you use your time? A new survey shows woman are more likely to feel time poor, but that surprisingly parents of two children feel more rushed than those with more. Why is that?



A study out today looks at parental time pressure. It’s an interesting study because it not only categorises different tasks, but attempts to map multitasking. So, for instance, if I am watching a film with my son, I may also be doing the laundry and doing the xmas cards and any other number of things. It also charts fragmented time, one of the bugbears of many parents, where you get interrupted while attempting to complete a task.

Unsurprisingly, both multitasking and fragmentation of time are higher among women who still do most of the home tasks. While this may in part be due to more women working part time, more and more working mums are working full time and the figures show that parents in full-time dual-earning couples feel the most time pressure, with women significantly more likely to report always feeling rushed [39% compared to 27% of men, although more men than women say they sometimes feel rushed – 63% versus 56%]. Parents of younger children also feel more rushed – again unsurprisingly.

The thing that struck me was that mothers of two children seemed to feel more time pressured than those with more than two. I find this curious and I’d be interested in cross-referencing on this. Are mothers of more than two children, for instance, less likely to work full time? Is that what makes the difference or are they less likely to have all their children aged under five, which looks like the most pressured time? Or are they just more laid back about the whole thing?

I’d really like to see more on parents with more than two children generally, and purely for selfish reasons. I have four kids. I work full time. I never feel less than constantly rushed. For instance, I feel guilty that when I do see people face to face and chat I basically just download a whole lot of stuff that has been happening in my life and then have to rush off before I can have a proper conversation. Rushing means you don’t get a great amount of time to listen and listening makes you not only a better person to talk to, but is more nourishing. I do listen a lot in my work, of course, but most of my phone calls to friends and family are done while walking to the tube or on transport, on the run, and a lot of conversations are against the clock.

Also, although it was undoubtedly hard when I had three children of five and under, I’ve either wiped my memory or am looking back with rosy-coloured glasses because I have felt more rushed as they have got older. There are a number of contributing factors.

One is that we have moved out of London and there is virtually no support mechanism for after school.

Two, the three kids who are still at home all go to different schools which are miles apart and public transport is bad.

Three, work demands are always increasing.

Four, my time is equally fragmented, but in the past it was for things like changing nappies, cleaning walls, etc, that I had to break off. Now it is to deal with much more complicated issues, often relating to mental health.

Five, I am either in or through the menopause, but it has left me wiped out in a way that I had never anticipated so I feel I have to cram more stuff into the hours when I am able to stay awake. Whereas in the old days staying up half the night to write up an article would have resulted in a slight feeling of tiredness the day after, now it leads to massive headaches and sinusitis which I never suffered from before. Since having children I have lived my entire life anticipating disaster and therefore saving up all holidays in case of chicken pox outbreaks, norovirus, sudden inset days, etc, feeling that I will be totally engulfed if I stop for one minute.

I was talking to some friends over the weekend who are of a similar age. One asked that old interview question: where do you see yourself in 10 years? All of the people working in some aspect of press or the media, which was most of us, said they were worried they would feel pushed out of their profession as they got older and would find it harder to rush around the place doing stuff.

We all knew, however, that we’d have to keep on working, and very possibly never retire. I mentioned that our new workingwise.co.uk site would be tackling all of these issues affecting workers over 50 and that this was going to be a considerable and important part of the future workforce.

We talked too about the health service and social care – the crisis in staffing and the likelihood that, given our ageing population and Britain’s reputation as a welcoming place to work having been trashed over the last three years, it would get much worse – and we all worried about getting sick or weaker as we aged. It’s something you rarely have time to reflect on in the rush of everyday life, but at some point something has to give, surely, and I think, without proper planning and support, it might end up being us.

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