Women are struggling to be the main parent to their children and the breadwinner, and it’s a work-family conflict that has become a national crisis, according to sociologist Caitlyn Collins.
As an assistant professor of sociology at Washington University, Collins studies gender inequality at work and home. According to her latest research, the U.S. ranks last on a list of Western civilized countries when it comes to supporting work-family policies such as parental leave, filling the gender wage gap and having minimums for vacation and sick days, and it’s contributing to high levels of stress for American moms.
She’s published a book called “Making Motherhood Work” to shed light on the problem and says the U.S. needs to look to other countries for ideas.
What makes it so much different in the U.S.? After looking at the lives of 135 middle-class, working moms in Sweden, Italy, Germany and the U.S., Collins determined that moms here have a lot of guilt and they worry more.
Cultural beliefs play a big role in the problem, not just policies, Collins says. In some of the other countries studied, mothers get full support from their spouses, families and employers. But in others, there is a stigma around moms who pursue careers, especially in Italy and Germany.
Collins also says her research shows that there are extra pressures on moms in America because there’s a perception that U.S. fathers lack nurturing skills. (One woman tried to break this stigma by listing her husband as the main contact for all things kid-related, and some people thought the parents were divorced because of this!)
The lack of U.S. policies combined with cultural beliefs is what is truly hurting working mothers, Collins says, and it’s her goal to get moms to believe in themselves.
“I want American mothers to stop thinking that somehow their conflict is their own fault, and that if they tried a little harder, got a new schedule, woke up a little earlier every morning, using the right planner or the right app, that they could somehow figure out the key to managing their stress. That’s just not the case,” told Psychology Today. It’s a structural problem that can’t be solved at the individual level, she says, but new policies to help working families could help.
Other research supports the idea that working moms should let go of that guilt.
A Harvard study released in 2015 found that children of working moms are just as happy in their adult lives as children who had moms who stayed home with them. Adult daughters who had moms who worked during their childhood are more likely to work themselves, hold more supervisory roles and even have higher earnings. Sons are also influenced by their working moms: They are less likely to see differences in gender in the workplace and often more likely to marry working women.
So put the guilt away, and enjoy your work!
Are you a mom who worries? Here are some tips on how to make working easier.
1. Turn Off Your Day-Care Notifications
Do you need to receive alerts on your phone from the day care center every time your child eats, sleeps, poops, gets diaper cream applied … ? Some day care facilities offer that service, as well as monitoring, but it will keep you distracted at work. Also, don’t monitor continuously — wait until you are on break or at lunch. Even then, consider not doing it: They are paid to care for your child, and if you trust them, know that you’ll get a call if something legitimately worrisome occurs. Enjoy your breaks with walks outside, reading, listening to podcasts (not about parenting!) and eating healthy food.
2. Focus On Building Savings
Putting money away will give you the ease of mind that, if your child became ill and you have to take off work from a job that doesn’t pay for the leave, you’ll be OK for a while. It will give you peace of mind in many situations, not just if you had to suddenly stop working. It’s definitely difficult to save: Child care is costing families an average of $13,000 annually — double that in the largest cities. But putting something away is better than nothing. Do it for your mental health.
3. Stick To A Schedule
If you’re running around chaotically at home getting you and your child or children ready for the day because you don’t have a plan, it may lead to more stress throughout the day. Will you be late to work? Will you worry about unpacked lunches or forgotten brushings of teeth? Make a plan and keep doing it daily.
4. Have A Plan For Working Late
Is the boss putting a 4:30 p.m. meeting on your calendar, but the after-school babysitter needs to leave at 5:30 p.m.? Talk to family and friends who are willing to pick up the kids in a pinch. Make sure the babysitter knows those folks for when there is a hand-off of the children.
5. Go Out For Happy Hour
Get those after-work drinks with co-workers once in a while. Schedule the babysitter for a little longer, or tell your partner you won’t be home until later that night and socialize with people who work with you. It will help to have good relationships in place when you have to suddenly leave to take care of your children: They may be more supportive and even help cover your workload. Do the same for them when the need arises!
6. Find Day Care With Education
Look for a day care center that offers education in addition to simply keeping an eye on your child or children. It will help you focus on work, giving you the peace of mind that they are kept busy with learning instead of sitting idle or playing with germy toys all day. You may be inclined to check in on them fewer times.
7. Avoid Social Media
Get off of social media more. Studies show that moms who compare themselves to other moms who appear to be do-it-all, mothers-of-the-year are more likely to feel depressed and worried. Besides, they aren’t perfect: One mom proved it when she caught another mom setting up photos of a perfect pool day with her daughter when really, the child was bored and unhappy, and the mom was ignoring her.