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Survey on Motherhood: it's not a job

What makes up the role of a mother? According to most advertisers, mums are cooks, cleaners and carers - but there's much more to it than that.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Feb 15, 2024

Saatchi & Saatchi conducted research with thousands of parents, looking into the roles parents play in their children's lives - dividing up daily tasks and the motivations behind them. It may not come as a complete surprise to learn that they found that mothers still take on the bulk of parental responsibility and are the ones predominantly fulfilling the role of Carer and Safehouse, while dads had more time for fun and breaking rules. But if we had a choice? Mums would love to spend more time doing the fun stuff. Here's a breakdown of the Motherhood: it's not a job findings.

The eight emotional roles of parenting

The study identified eight roles, and analysed them based on importance, the time spent doing them, and the desire to do them. As any multitasking mother knows, it turned out all of those roles were found to be fairly equal in importance, and are often performed simultaneously.

 1. Carer: being there and in the moment

This is all about being in tune with what children need day-to-day, making them feel protected, cared for and loved - not to mention being there for a hug when they need it.

  • 98% of mums perceived this as very important

  • 34% said this was their full-time role

MNers said: "When they're sad or feeling a little bit down, all you want to do is hug them and take the pain away from them; or if someone is mean to them, all you want to do is hold them tight and hope that you can help them."

2. Safehouse: being there, no matter what

Safehouse means being one phone call away, the person your children call out for, and providing a safety net for them to turn to, no matter what happens.

  • 98% perceived this as very important

  • 9% of their total time was spent in this role

MNers said: "This is one of the most important roles I feel, as all children need to feel they have a safe place to go and someone who will always look out for them no matter what happens."

 3. Coach: being there even when you aren't

As a Coach, you're an adviser to your children, guiding and cajoling them so that they are ultimately able to live independent lives.

  • 57% perceived this as very important

  • 20% of their total time was spent in this role

MNers said: "It's very important my kids understand the value of money. I am trying to teach my oldest about how to manage their personal finances. They have to work hard to earn it and know how to save it. I want them to know that before they go off in the real world."

 4. Fan: enjoying the mark children make

Fans are the person a child wants front-row and centre for all their performances – whether it's a school play, football match, the telling of a joke, or talking about their day at school.

  • 47% perceived this as very important

  • 4% of their total time was spent in this role

MNers said: "It's about listening to them sing you a private concert, being at their dance recitals, watching them laugh at Frozen for the 100th time."

 5. Partner in crime: getting your hands dirty

In this role, mums have time to play with their children; making each other laugh and just having fun.

  • 91% perceived this as very important

  • 8% of their total time was spent in this role

MNers said: "Kids won't remember how clean the floors were - but they will remember how much fun they had."

 6. Rule breaker: not always being the disciplinarian

The Rule Breaker is great fun for a child to be around - spontaneously breaking the rules and ripping up the day-to-day routine.

  • 65% perceived this as very important

  • 1% of their total time was spent in this role

MNers said: "Yesterday I let him draw on walls in the playroom – we are repainting next week so I figured why not? He couldn't believe I was letting him do it; he thought it was so fun. He was laughing the whole time!"

 7. Friend: being on the inside

As the Friend, mums interact with their children as an equal, a mate - someone they can tell their secrets to.

  • 93% perceived this as very important

  • 9% of their total time was spent in this role

MNers said: "I hope at the end of it all, when she's all grown up, she wants to be my friend."

 8. Hero: being who you want your child to be

And the final role is The Hero - being a child's role model, the one they look up to, and the person they are inspired by.

  • 71% perceived this as very important

  • 15% of their total time was spent in this role

MNers said: "It's so important, even when they see me mess up. They need to learn from my mistakes, and find out what is right and wrong."

 Time is of the essence

Yep, there never seems to be enough time in the day to fit everything in. Because of this, mums tend to miss out on the more spontaneous and 'fun' aspects of parenting - the Rule Breaker and Partner in Crime roles.

How much time is actually spent in roles (left) and how much time mums desire to spend in roles (right).

  • 93% say evenings are the main time when they can be together as a family

  • 93% have genuine fun with their children almost every day or at least once a week

  • 60% want to spend more time being a Rule Breaker and 74% want to spend more time as Partner In Crime

MNers said: "I wish I could spend more time having fun, to be someone a child can let their hair down with and be themselves, no matter how silly."

 Sharing the load

In an ideal world a partner would share 61% of all roles and responsibilities equally, enabling mums to be less Housekeeper and more Rule Breaker so that they have the freedom to let go more often.

  • 58% of mums perform all eight emotional roles entirely on their own

 Saatchi & Saatchi conducted quantitative research through a nationally representative survey of 1,022 mums in the UK (responses gathered in December 2014). They also conducted two Mumsnet panel surveys consisting of more than 1,800 parents. For the purpose of the research findings, mums are defined as women with children under the age of 16.

 Marketing Week on what this means for brands | Read the Observer report on this research