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Female Student Affairs Professionals on the Frontline: Seeking Work-Life Balance as a Single Mother

Amanda L McGrath, Johnson & Wales University


Student affairs professionals tend to face unrealistic workplace demands. Finding time for personal responsibilities while juggling the demands of a job that often requires a 24/7 commitment is more of a goal than an achievement. Compared with their married, cohabitating, or childless counterparts, single mothers struggle more significantly with work-life balance. Ranji et al. (2021) suggests the work-life balance disparities which existed prior to the pandemic have been magnified and are one of the primary reason’s individuals leave the workplace. Societal pressures and expectations of being a good mother conflict with the demands of a working professional, particularly in student affairs. The purpose of this qualitative descriptive study was to understand the experiences of single mothers and how they navigate frontline roles in student affairs while balancing professional and domestic responsibilities. A single overarching research question guided this study: RQ1: How do female student affairs professionals in higher education who are single mothers, and who serve in frontline, middle management roles, describe how they maintain a work-life balance? Qualitative data were collected from three distinct sources: an interview with a work-life balance expert (N=1), interviews with single mothers serving in frontline, mid-level student affairs roles (N=10), and a follow-up reflective questionnaire sent to the primary participants (N=10). Data were analyzed using a thematic analysis strategy to identify key concepts (Rubin & Rubin, 2005). Boundary theory (Nippert-Eng, 1996) served as a theoretical framework to frame participants’ experience of coping with opposing dichotomies of personal and professional life. Four distinct themes emerged from the synthesized data: (1) Individual Identity, (2) Collateral Damage, (3) Coping Skills, and (4) Need for Support. These findings are validated by existing literature (Cochran, 2021; Girisken, 2021; Robbins & McFadden, 2003) and were reinforced by the expert participant who coaches women striving for a positive work-life balance. Findings from this study may inform campus leaders about the unique challenges this population encounters. This study aims to shed light on how institutions can encourage a better work-life balance to better support and retain frontline, mid-level professionals who are single mothers.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Educational administration|Individual & family studies|Educational sociology

Recommended Citation

McGrath, Amanda L, "Female Student Affairs Professionals on the Frontline: Seeking Work-Life Balance as a Single Mother" (2022). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI30524173.