The Exhausting Career of American Motherhood

A mother’s life is one of sacrifice, even if she does get a dinner and flowers once a year on Mother’s Day. A Family Circle survey (published under the headline, “Moms Don’t Get No Respect!”) compiled a list of “the top sacrifices moms have made.” The one cited by the most respondents (57 percent) was “privacy, quiet.” Sleep (53 percent), “carefree lifestyle” (52 percent), self-indulgences (46 percent) and travel (36 percent) filled out the top five. Seventy percent said motherhood “is much more demanding and exhausting than they had expected.” (Thank goodness, then, that 92 percent find it “more rewarding” than they’d anticipated.) One thing many mothers sacrifice is career, but that isn’t necessarily a sore point with them. While people who value career above all else are aghast at the notion of a “mommy track,” 31 percent of the poll’s respondents said the main change they’d like to see in the workplace is “more part-time/flextime options.” Far fewer (18 percent) cited “pay equity between men and women” as the change they’d welcome most. Sixty-five percent said, “I’m not as career-driven as I used to be,” which suggests the proverbial glass ceiling is also less of an issue in their lives. Most strikingly, 77 percent of the mothers who work full-time outside the home said they “would stay home full time if they could.” Of course, if they did quit working, they’d need to steel themselves against the reproaches (real or imagined) of working women. Seventy-three percent of full-time mothers said they feel mothers who work outside the home “look down on them”—an accusation that’s denied by 55 percent of the working mothers. On the other hand, 64 percent of at-home mothers confessed they look down on mothers who leave their kids to go out to work. Elsewhere in the survey, mothers were asked to divulge the “worst thing I’ve ever done to my child.” Ten percent said they’d “slapped my child in the face”; 16 percent confessed they’d “spanked my child hard.” For 43 percent, the worst they’d ever done was “screamed at my child.”