‘Quit Work, Mummy’, Dilemma of a Japanese Working Mother

Japanese mother at work

The position of working women in Japanese society has been frequently debated in the Japanese press. A recent article from AERA magazine once again brought this issue to the fore, with a story about a working mother who faced a dilemma when her twelve year old daughter asked her to quit her job so that her mother could help her with her exam revision for middle-school. As well as the issue of women who must try to be both mothers and financial providers for their families, the pressure of the Japanese school system on the children of working is also apparent in the story. The article attracted a lot of attention on Twitter, and a selection of the responses of Twitter users are also included.

From AERA:

The Dilemma of the Working Mother: ‘Mummy, Please Quit Work!’, says Daughter in 6th Grade of Elementary School

The number of women who bring up a child while working has increased; however, it seems that there are also a lot of women who face the dilemma of having a career and bringing up a child.

With an expression on her face as though she was deep in thought, the words of her daughter, who is in sixth grade [twelve years old], struck the mother to her core.

‘Mummy, won’t you please quit work?’

Last year, a 46-year old female division chief at a large insurance company had the experience of her daughter sitting the middle-school entrance examinations. Her daughter was given a lot of homework at cram school; most of the children had their mothers, who were housewives, following after their every move, and they were getting better grades because of it. Yet the female division chief had almost no time to look at her daughter’s homework. The seating order in her cram school, which was decided by grades, was clear, and her daughter had fallen behind. She must also have been putting up with a lot. Although she was usually never the kind of child to push it with her mother, she pleaded with her: ‘Please, quit work!’

Japanese children hard at work at cram school (juku).

Japanese children hard at work at cram school (juku).

It was precisely at that time that the woman was put in charge of drastic departmental reform. There was also the fact that it was ‘an unusually busy time’, and there were days when she would leave the company, dashing to pick up her daughter when cram school finished at 9pm, finish her housework, and then have to deal with doing work at home until the small hours. Six months before her daughter’s entrance exams, when she heard her ‘child’s plea’, she started getting up at 5am to spend two hours of one-to-one study time with her daughter.

The woman had her daughter at 34. After returning to work following maternity leave, she used nurseries and family support while working full-time. Working so much that she had made her own daughter uncomfortable, the woman had thought she’d wanted to be more successful, and she worked harder than she had before the birth. The company even backed her as the model of a woman who worked and improved her career. She was excused from business trips and given creative work, and within three years she was offered a promotion to the position of division chief.

She hesitated. It was clear that her responsibilities would increase and that she would be busier. When she discussed it with one of her superiors who had acted as her mentor, and who was also a working mother, she encouraged her, saying, ‘As you gain more power in the company, your administrative work becomes easier’.

Still, her administrative work was tougher than she had imagined. She had to get to grips with a wide range of work-related knowledge, so that she could keep her eye on whether the twenty people she was in charge of were working in the right place at the right time, and so that she could respond to their concerns. The burden of her work had increased, both in terms of the time it took and its psychological impact. Her husband kindly took care of going to pick up their daughter from cram school when she was busy, but it was clear that the mothers were judging her, she could see from their attitude; it was as if they were thinking ‘Is there really a need for a mother to work like that?’

‘If a father tries to better his career, no one would dream of asking him why he was doing it. If a mother tries to better his career, both she and those around her face a dilemma. The success of working mothers involves this kind of complication.’

Comments from Twitter:


This is a difficult issue, when the mother is not at home. RT @ryoko174 It’s best if the daughter is self-reliant and the parents take additional measures as necessary, such as getting her a home tutor or something. I think it’s strange that they’re making it a dilemma.

Flower Destroy:

What on earth, what is this? Trying to say that it’s hard for her? It’s hard for everyone!


AERA, don’t try to make things worse. This is exactly what I expect from the Asahi News Group. The kid is studying so that she can have a career like her mother in the future. So what is the kid thinking, trying to be in control of both her own future and her mother’s?


Well, people go all out for the middle-school entrance exams.


Although my mother made me dinner, when I was doing my middle-school entrance exams she wasn’t watching over me while I studied.@Yukfra: ‘Mummy, please quit work’ — that’s cruel. But the mother should explain to her daughter why she has chosen to work. Even if the kid doesn’t agree, for example.

いのうえ せいいちろう:

AERA, this is just too awful.


Incredible…isn’t this pushing the concepts of ‘female’ and ‘mother’ a bit far?

Yukie Tamura / 田村由貴絵:

Even when I was in 6th grade, it never even occurred to me to ask my mother to teach me. I mean, I’d have been told, ‘Oh, Mummy’s no good at maths’ anyway.

Vonnel Green:

You just have to ask ‘What is the father doing in all of this?’ Because it’s not like he’d say it himself.


What a depressing article


Recently, my daughter told me, ‘I want to try having my own key, so you can just go to work.’ And then of course the next day she told me, ‘It’s a bother to have to open the door myself.’ Can you possibly take notice of every little thing?!


This isn’t the kind of situation where the mother should be shocked at all, she should just have talked to her about what working means, or given her daughter a row! This seems to be an educational failure, that her daughter has been raised to be a sixth grader who has never imagined why her mother might be working and just blurted out ‘Mummy, quit work’.


I think there must be some other reason as to why a child would do something like tell their mother to quit work.


I’ll work no matter what. Because I have to repay my school fees. I guess that someone like me shouldn’t wish for children, right?


There are a lot of mothers who have part-time jobs and who are housewives, so for the kids too, there is a recognition that it’s quite reasonable for their mothers to be in the house when the children come home, and that this equates to love.


So she won’t ask her father to help her with her studies and to quit work? Isn’t the child a bit confused to only rely on her mother for this? I feel some animosity toward this article.


They need some kind of system reform when it comes to work and the school entrance exams.

robo kiss*:

The daughter is not loved enough.


First of all, from the storyline here, it’s strange that the context of the article should be one sympathy for the mother; when the father gets promoted nothing was said to him by the daughter, but it was said to the mother.


Why wouldn’t it have been alright for her father to help her with her studies? Wasn’t the kid just lonely? She just wanted to spend time with her mother.


That kid is spoilt…She shouldn’t use schoolwork as an excuse. She’s lonely because she doesn’t usually get to spend much time with her mother…that’s what is wrong.


Yeah, I’m sorry, but the kid is in the wrong here RT @tabusa: If the mother had quit work over this, the next ten years would be hell for the daughter.

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