Social and Interpersonal Skills are the second group and involve talents like being at ease in social situations, being able to rationally express oneself in situations of conflict, and responding positively to others when they express their feelings and ideas. A major component of social and interpersonal skills is an ability to communicate and deal effectively with others with a minimum level of stress; social competence is viewed as a high level of coping competence. The women in the study used a high degree of social and interpersonal skills on the job, fairly high with children and slightly lower with husbands.
Many women indicated in the interviews that in their earlier years as professionals they were not as much at ease with their male colleagues as they would have liked to be. They recommended that women aspiring to multiple roles learn to use social and interpersonal skills in order to manage their social and professional lives, especially with male colleagues, more easily.
The third category, Regulation of Emotion Skills, sounds repressive and stoical but involves such common sense actions as not allowing emotions to overly influence one's decisions, and being able to distract oneself from problems to come back to them objectively. It means controlling emotions such as fear, guilt, jealousy, anxiety, self-doubt and depression. Many women in the study emphasized that controlling these emotions is fundamental to coping with role stress and conflict. The ability to do so results in emotional stamina, a resource essential to finding innovative solutions to role problems.
Though all five coping resources can be useful tools for dealing with stress, the results from my study indicated that the nine coping skills were the most valuable in lowering stress levels in the lives of participants. Future programs for women must include skill development based on the findings of this study. Parents, teachers, counsellors (and others in the helping professions) and managers must be made aware of the importance of coping skills to women who wish to function effectively in multiple roles.
Since the study also indicated a majority of respondents with low stress scores, the prevailing assumption that the roles of wife, mother and professional combined necessarily produce high stress is brought into question. Findings from the interviews indicate that managing the three roles of professional, wife and mother is possible, without undue amounts of stress, through organization of time, space and activities.
The stress of role conflict can be reduced another way, by reducing the underlying role conflict expected of women in society. This ultimately implies, as do most re-evaluations of the world by women, an ambitious long-term re-orientation of society itself. Perhaps when household duties really are the joint responsibility of husband and wife, the concern over role conflict and stress will have disappeared along with superwoman's red cape and big letter S.
My study concludes that, on the whole, married professional women with children are better able to cope with stress than popular images of them portray. They can learn to juggle the roles of wife, mother, and professional or career person, even if it means demanding changes in the family, work environment and society in general. Perhaps when women are accepted for the strong and capable people they are - and when girls grow up with such women as role models - we can begin to envision a changed and deeper understanding of human development and a more generative view of human life.
Dr .Berte Rubin received her doctorate in Adult Education from the University of Toronto in 1987. She has been in private practice as a counselor and group therapist for the past 15 years and has given numerous workshops and lectures on stress management and personal effectiveness. She welcomes opportunities to speak to women's organizations or groups, and would appreciate any comments on this article.