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Uncovering women’s experiences in balancing motherhood with employment.

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The purpose of this research study was to understand the experiences of women balancing the roles of motherhood and employment, within the South African organisational context. A review of the literature suggests that despite efforts towards gender equality and the increased level of participation of women in the workforce, societal norms still create and reinforce expectations for women to bear the responsibility for both child-rearing and domestic duties. Drawing from a social constructionist paradigm, this study adopted a qualitative methodology in order to unravel the socially constructed perceptions of work and motherhood within two South African organisations in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. The sample consisted of eight working mothers, who were located using both a purposive and snowball sampling strategy. Semi-structured interviews were used to collect the data, which was analysed using the Voice Relational Method. The findings indicate that the place of working mothers is socially constructed by the circulating discourse within society surrounding work and motherhood. Working mothers are involved in a complex interplay of role/identity construction/reconstruction by challenging and accepting aspects of normative or ideological discourse to make it relevant to their local circumstances. Becoming a mother seems to be life-changing for a woman and requires a lot of adjustment on a woman’s part in terms of her identity and perceptions, requires the learning of new skills and strategies and at times can feel lonely and isolating. Working mother’s face both pros and cons when trying to balance their multiple roles. These pros and cons were psychological, emotional, social, financial, ideological and structural. This research also uncovered the impact of existing ideology on mothering and work in the way that participants utilise the voice of “I” and “you”. The voice of “I” was often used by participants to emphasise their personal anxieties and fears in relation to their perceptions of the normative experiences of mothers, i.e. the voice of “you”. In conclusion, this study was useful in privileging the voice of working mothers in and on their own terms who face a deep sense of isolation, loneliness, and inadequacies in their gendered lived experience; but also celebrate their own individuality and collectivity as women who find fulfilment and satisfaction in navigating multiple roles in their journey of motherhood and work.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.