Children’s after-school activities leaving middle class mums worn out, says Loughborough study

Many middle class mums are exhausted because of their children’s after-school activities, according to a Loughborough University academic.

Professor Sarah Holloway says middle class mums are working flat out trying to keep their children occupied with activities that enrich their lives.

She says that 42 per cent of middle class children who took part in her study did more than five extra-curricular activities a week, compared to 6.5 per cent of working class children.

As a result, the nature of middle class family life has been transformed in ways that have benefits for children but can leave working mums, especially those with more than one child, tired out.

That’s one of the major findings of a research paper called ‘Enriching Children, Institutionalizing Childhood? Geographies of Play, Extracurricular Activities, and Parenting in England’, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The findings will chime with working middle class mums who become diary planners and chauffeurs for their children, taking them to activities like swimming, dance and sports clubs in an era when parents feel it is too dangerous to let them play out.

Sarah, Professor of Human Geography at Loughborough, investigated what academics describe as the ‘professionalization of parenting’ over the past few years.

It’s a process, says Professor Holloway, which places an emphasis on individual parental responsibility, whilst encouraging dependency on a growing body of professional childrearing advice.

Part and parcel of that is the increasing amount of time parents are expected to spend helping children with their homework, while also juggling careers, housework and keeping employment skills up to date.

Professor Holloway calls it the fourth shift.

In America, it has been argued that middle-class mothers favour ‘concerted cultivation’ – fostering children’s talents through clubs and activities and extensive reasoning.

Working class mums, on the other hand, prefer ‘natural growth’ – children are expected to follow adult rules but have more free time to play out.

Professor Holloway examined these trends in Britain and found that all parents, and children, appreciated the clubs – but poorer families lost out because they could not afford them.

The parents who can afford them do so in a bid to ensure their children grow up able to get a job in an increasingly competitive global economy, but find they have little ‘me’ time because their social life revolves around the children.

While they are happy to do it, they are also ending up exhausted.

“Increasing numbers of middle-class mums are in paid employment,” said Professor Holloway.

“They are under pressure to deliver at work, they have to keep their own employment skills up-to-date, they still do more of the domestic labour than men, and they’re now under extra pressure to ensure their children have an enjoyable childhood and develop in appropriate ways.

“Parents want children to do after-school activities because they are fun, but there is more to it than this. 

“Many mothers are encouraging children to do a sport as it will help set them on the road to a healthy lifestyle.  Some kind of cultural activity – say learning an instrument, or a drama class -- will help make them a rounded person. Lots of mums think uniformed organisations are brilliant for teaching children social skills.

“It’s about ensuring their children’s physical, cultural and social development alongside educational achievement.

 “They are helping their children grow into successful people, training them to be able to move in different circles and have all the soft skills a worker needs in the modern economy. Education is crucial, but by itself it is not enough any more.

 “Mums do feel pressured, but it’s the nature of good mothering, wanting to do the right thing for your child.

“It’s partly the professionalization of parenting that drives it, and partly fear amongst the middle classes about whether their own children will have access to the same kind of life as they’ve enjoyed. 

“Parents want their children to do well in school because if they don’t there’s not a plan B any more. But degrees cost a lot now, not all graduates get jobs, and house prices are completely out of line with the average wage.

“So parents aren’t just supporting the work of schools by helping with homework, they’re devoting themselves to creating healthy, cultured, confident little people who are ready to take on the world.”

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