American mothers are struggling. Social, cultural, technological and economic changes have altered the clear path of motherhood in recent years. While it was common in the 70’s and 80’s to see more than half of the mothers stay at home with their kids, it is certainly not like that anymore. Nowadays both parents work in 70% of families with children for several reasons; a main one is the constant rising prices of the costs of child care, especially in NY. In New York City, for example, the cost of child care is increasing $1,612 per year, with families spending up to $16,250 per year for an infant, $11,648 for a toddler and $9,620 for a school-age child. It is no wonder moms are stressed out…
Research says U.S. mothers have it “the worst when it comes to work-life balance because they lack cultural support”. Americans have this idea that in order to be a good worker one has to devote all the time and energy to the workplace. But what about the people who have non-work responsibilities such as family? They are not excellent employees because they don’t stay after hours? American moms, according to sociologist Caitlyn Collins, do not expect to have external supports from their employers, partners or federal government. “Mothers from Sweden, Germany and Italy, on the other hand, expected this and more”. Moreover, men in these countries devote the same amount of time as their partner in taking care of the children. “It is a cultural ideal supported through their federal policies, and we lack that sort of cultural consensus here in the U.S.”. American fathers do participate in the care of the children, but research found that their leisure time actually increased after parenthood during the weekends. Men watch TV, play sports and spend time with friends while women spend their “free time” planning birthday parties, play dates, and school meetings. And even if they do have leisure time, it is often interrupted.
It is important to salute every working woman and acknowledge that their successes have required a much greater amount of effort than their male counterparts. Let’s be clear though that today’s dads are doing more at home than those in previous generations – cheers! But as mentioned before, mothers still “shoulder greater responsibilities: childcare, housekeeping duties and invisible chores like making appointments, keeping track of activities, school schedules, booking the babysitter, and many more that doesn’t get noticed”. It’s little surprise that constant juggling and multitasking at home leads to negative mental health stability like depression and anxiety. And this is not just for the mother. “Studies point out that when moms suffer, kids suffer too. When the child’s primary caregiver is stressed or mentally ill, that stress tickles down to kids with bad results”.
American moms constantly blame themselves for their own stress and think it is only up to them to help resolve that. They want to be both successful at their jobs and dedicated to their family. But in the end, they find themselves in a no-win situation. There is so much pressure for mothers to fulfill the image of “an ideal motherhood” that they don’t get to enjoy the process. They are constantly trying to find the latest hacks whether is the perfect schedule planner, waking up earlier to meditate and workout, or the typical bulk cook on Sundays. One would think social media outlets would help relieve some of this tension. But social media is pervasive, and research shows mothers who frequently compare themselves to others “feel more depressed, less competent and less positive about their co-parenting relationships”. Mom-shaming is nothing new, and it needs to stop.
Mothers need to stop feeling so much pressure and being conflicted about work and family life. They need to also stop thinking they need to become better, work harder, try harder, and find the new parenting hack. Being a mother isn’t supposed to be easy, but it certainly isn’t supposed to feel impossible. Yes, it involves sacrifices and certain levels of commitment. But it needs to be perceived as a joyful experience for both the mother and the father. With better support groups, less social media shaming, better governmental resources and more work flexibility, women will feel less anxious and more grateful. For mothers to thrive, we need to lighten their load. And together we can knock down those hurdles. Together we can create a better work-life balance.