All I Want Is Everything

Working Mother magazine asked3,781 mothers how they wanted to run their lives and what they needed in order to do that.  I’ve looked at the results closely, and come to two main conclusions.  First, every mother will think other mothers are happier or having an easier time.  Second, they will all be wrong, for it’s the rare mother who manages to avoid periodic stress, guilt, and dissatisfaction.  It doesn’t matter if you stay at home, work from home, or work outside the home – whatever your situation, you’ll place yourself at the short end of the stick some of the time.  Maybe even a lot of the time.

Over 2/3 of the women surveyed understand “work” to be something done for a paycheck only.  That suggests that they wouldn’t say they are “working” when caring for children or managing their households.   It’s not surprising, then, that those who aren’t employed outside the home feel looked down upon in our society, where one’s worth is measured by the income one commands.   In fact, 55% report feeling guilty for not contributing to the family income.  Paycheck-earning mothers report more guilt (55%) arising from the tidiness of their house, but retain significant guilt about time spent away from their children (51%).  Staying home is no solution to the cleanliness conflict – 44% of non-employed mothers say their homes are not up to scratch either.  About 40% of all mothers, regardless of employment, believe others judge the quality of  their mothering based on the cleanliness of their home.   Advertisers are appealing to this vulnerability with their household cleaning products labeled “anti-microbial” and “antibacterial” – good moms have clean houses, so, kill, kill, kill those germs!!

As if the working/not working, clean house/messy house, with my children/not with my children strife weren’t enough to make you crazy, over a third of mothers express dissatisfaction with the amount of “couple time” they have, and/or with their marital relationship overall.  As bad as that is, even more mothers in the study also felt they were not doing enough to care for themselves.  Like the clean house guilt, this perceived inadequacy is experienced both by employed mothers (48%) and non-empl0yed mothers (42%).  It’s important to remember, though, that all these  short-comings are subjective.  By a significant majority, mothers acknowledge that they are the ones finding themselves wanting.  “I am my  own worst critic.”  Ladies, we are too hard on ourselves.

Of course, the upside to this self-imposed lack of esteem is that it lies within our own power to change.  What we do, caring for others, is most certainly work.  It is toil, productive effort, and labor.  Work does not require monetary compensation to be work.  The fact that we do it for people whom we love, or to whom we are bound by blood, affection, or circumstances, does not negate the value of the activity.  We  hold ourselves to a far higher standard than our mothers, or anyone else, ever dreamed of.  Piling on, we expect to be radiant romantic partners, and have a level of inner calm like a yogi.  Do we ever cut ourselves the slack we extend to our friends, or even strangers?  Just who, exactly, do we think we are?

I suggest we consciously throw our worst critic into the ditch, and become our own best friend.  Far more helpful, I suspect, and arguably far more grounded in reality.

You can read the summary of survey findings or the whole 28 page report, if you need persuading that we are entitled to a very large break.

‘Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington

About Valerie Young

Valerie Young is a public policy analyst who focuses on the economic status of mothers and other family caregivers. She promotes social justice by arming mothers with information and a healthy dose of outrage. She is the Advocacy Coordinator at the National Association of Mothers' Centers, and is a reporter for The Shriver Report and contributor to Brain/Child Magazine. Follow her blog, Your (Wo)Man in Washington, on Twitter @WomanInDC and on Facebook as Valerie Young and Your (Wo)Man in Washington.

, , ,

  • Kelly Coyle DiNorcia

    Here’s the craziest thing about this, in my mind: more people are worried about the condition of their homes than the time they spend with their children! Not to say, of course, that mothers should feel guilty about working or otherwise spending time away from their children, but short of having sewage sloshing around in ditches in the back yard or other similarly unhealthy conditions, who cares about a few (or several days’ worth of) dishes in the sink or a pile of unopened mail on the table? Let’s focus on what’s important here instead of finding yet another standard by which to judge ourselves and other mothers!

  • Lisa Kaplan-Miller

    Once again, Valerie, you cut to the heart of it – and say it so well! We put such demands on ourselves – the expectations are insane. And you’re right – the upside is that we can have an impact – by talking to each other, by being kinder to ourselves (and others!), by giving ourselves permission to be “good enough” and by taking credit for all that we do – paid and unpaid. thanks Valerie for continuing the conversation-

  • Rosanne

    I cannot believe that after all this time, women are still being asked how they “feel” about the cleanliness of their house and how much guilt they have about how they conduct their lives. Men are not asked these questions. Yes, we can move the bar an inch by not buying into all this, but the larger conversation has to change. Work is work, whether there is a paycheck at the end of the week or not. It’s sad that we as a society have not come up with a better measure for a person’s worth than the amount of take home pay.

  • Heather-The Ultimate Outcast

    Great job Valerie~something that has given me a ton of extra self-esteem (because I really ever lacked any) is that I realize that I am an example for my son of feminine strength and confidence. You’re right… People will respect what we do if we give ourselves the proper respect.