Leading Article: Monday morning blues and family life

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The Independent Online
IT IS hardly surprising that more people suffer cardiac arrests and strokes between 8 and 9am on Monday mornings than during any other 60-minute period. They have to go back to work. Another week of long hours, the wearing commute and the calls of family life is enough to break anyone's heart. Monday morning blues may be fatal in an age when expectations of men and women in their working and personal lives are stretching them in too many directions at the same time.

Women are disillusioned with the 'superwoman' role, which demands that the good wife and mother is also out working, keeping fit and still somehow finding time to entertain elegantly and have a sunshine smile. The new 'superman' is expected to be good with nappies, a culinary wizard and a sensitive and loving father tuned in with his children. (He is also apparently expected to shave his chest.) Meanwhile, he still has to be the thrusting, dynamic employee working all hours. There has been a revolution in the way people see themselves, but with liberation has come enslavement.

The main problem, as Alistair Burt, a minister at the Department of Social Security, said at the weekend, is that employers make too little allowance for the time needed to foster a healthy family life. The losers are children and personal relationships, which are neglected to meet the overbearing demands of the workplace. 'Responsible parenting' is being put under severe pressure, according to Mr Burt. 'Some of the most deprived children in society have every material convenience available to them. All they lack is their parents' time and affection because it is so committed elsewhere.' Indeed, one in two marriages are expected to end in divorce, the highest level in Europe. Could that be because Britons work too hard?

A few years ago, the blame for the failures of family life would have been thrown on women. Critics would have said a woman's place was in the home. This is no longer accepted as a realistic answer: the clock will not go back, even if it were desirable. But it is clear that whereas many women used to draw their status from successfully keeping a home, today, neither men nor many women feel such an identification with home life. Men, in particular, think it is more important to appease an employer than invest energy in domesticity.

Employers may think they are gaining a good deal from their workaholic staff and the Government may draw solace from the income growth derived from people working harder. But children certainly do not seem to be profiting and there is growing evidence suggesting that working long hours is inefficient - as companies in Germany and Scandinavia acknowledge. Anyone tempted to leave work a little early this afternoon can do so secure in the knowledge that they are doing their employer, the economy and the family a favour.