Faced with the high demands of family life, single working mothers who have a current state of mind -; unlike the tendency to focus on the past or the future -; may feel more “in control” of their free time, according to a new study led by researchers at Virginia Tech.
In turn, these feelings of control over time away from work can help these single moms fit healthy habits like exercise into their busy schedules. The effect of control on exercise time was unique, in that this perceived control did not affect consumption of unhealthy foods or excess alcohol, the researchers wrote.
Exercise, of course, has been linked to better long-term physical and mental health in numerous studies.
The study funded by the National Science Foundation was recently published in Applied psychology: health and well-being, a publication of the International Association of Applied Psychology. Spearheading the study was Charles Calderwood, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, which is part of the Virginia Tech College of Science.
While evening family demands can be a barrier to leisure time exercise for working single mothers, this unhealthy relationship is not inevitable. Instead, focusing more on the present / living in the moment helps these working parents feel they have more control over their time, even in the face of high family demands. In turn, they can harness this control to support their engagement in day-to-day exercise. “
Charles Calderwood, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Virginia Tech College of Science
Molly Minnen, a graduate student in psychology, and researchers at Rice University and the Georgia Institute of Technology collaborated with Calderwood. The team followed 102 single mothers who worked for a period of seven days. The study focused on how the state of mind of these women -; while reconciling work and family tasks -; impacted their pursuit of healthy behaviors during their downtime.
Unsurprisingly, researchers have found that the family demands of a mother who works nights make exercise less likely. Yet it was precisely his sense control over how to spend their evening which was diminished by high family demands, and it made all the difference in whether they were taking time for themselves – and their health – in the midst of busy schedules. And people who generally focused on living in the moment had a reduced impact of evening family demands on exercise-critical perceptions of control.
“Present-focused mothers who chose to put their health first weren’t necessarily more or less busy than mothers who didn’t exercise as much,” said Danielle King, assistant professor of psychological sciences at Rice and one of the study’s co-authors. “A key difference was that mothers felt more in control of their choices and able to choose to prioritize their needs.”
What comes next for this study? Calderwood offers the design of interventions that can improve health behavior engagement for working single mothers and others with high family demands, such as caregivers of an adult parent. dependent.. Second, Calderwood said it’s possible that other healthy behaviors such as increasing the number of hours you sleep may be improved by a process similar to that seen for exercise in the present study.
Many pasts and current studies of single working mothers have tended to focus on demonstrating the potential for disparities in health at work, such as lower levels of health at work, compared to parents in a relationship, with less emphasis on focus on the day-to-day experiences and health behaviors of members of this population.
A looming question that remains is whether similar processes would apply to other populations with high family demands, such as single working fathers.
âWhile there have been studies to compare the experiences of working lone mothers and working lone fathers, to my knowledge there has not yet been an investigation into the process by which family demands influence recovery experiences or everyday health behaviors in single working fathers, âCalderwood added. “We chose to focus our initial survey of these processes on working lone mothers, as the disparities in occupational health they face may be particularly acute compared to a number of other comparison groups in the world. ‘entire workforce. “
Minnen, the graduate student working in Calderwood’s workplace stress and recovery lab, has focused part of its efforts on construction of a theoretical model for the study.
Her hope for the impact of the study: “I hope this study will help shed light on unique populations that might be overlooked by traditional sampling strategies for work and welfare research. “Minnen said. âI hope that the work and wellness research community will continue to consider the unique characteristics of life as a single mother and work on recommendations and tangible solutions to improve their well-being. “
Calderwood, C., et al. (2021) Understanding how family demands affect the health behaviors of working single mothers: the role of perceived control over leisure time. Applied psychology: health and well-being. doi.org/10.1111/aphw.12307.