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.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington