Working Round the Clock

When Cindy McGovern gets home from her day job, the real work begins. She's been on the run since waking at 4:45 a.m. She's put in a full day, juggling interviews and production schedules for the employee newsletter she runs. She's endured a harrowing hour-long commute between work and her Northern Virginia home.

Then the fun starts.

"What do you have for homework?" Cindy asks breathlessly as she packs a snack for ten-year-old Brian and eight-year-old Megan.

It's after 5:30. There's no time for a meal — or homework — or conversation. Cindy just wants to get evening operations under way, and not let her children go hungry. Brian plays baseball and Megan soccer. So if it's not one sport, it's the other. And if it's not practice, there's a game. Other evenings, there's Scouts. Tonight, the children have to change into their sports clothes.

Later they'll have dinner — even if it's just sitting down together for 20 minutes over hot dogs or frozen pizza. Then Megan and Brian will do their homework at the kitchen table as Cindy cleans up. They'll shower, make lunches and prepare for the next day. The kids won't be in bed until 9:45. Cindy will be asleep a half-hour later. She'll collapse, exhausted.

Packing More Into Less Time

Today's typical mother struggles to balance careers at home and elsewhere. She often worries about a "family-time famine" — not enough time with her children — even though recent studies show it isn't her children who are starving for attention. She's the one.

According to a 1998 University of Maryland study, the average American mom today spends about the same time with her children as the stay-at-home moms of the 1960s — 5.8 waking hours a day, versus 5.6 hours back in the days of Wally and the Beav.

How does the modern mom do it? By taking time off work. By skipping meals. By stealing hours from herself. By putting off friends and her husband. By grooming herself in traffic on the way to her job. She keeps herself awake, sleeping six hours less each week than the average stay-at-home mom.

But no matter what she does, the modern employed mother still has 12 fewer hours of free time each week. She asks her spouse to help more — but still spends more time than he does on the chores and children. And she hardly ever relinquishes June Cleaver's territory — cooking, cleaning, shopping.