Careers And Caregiving
The not-so-hidden stress of being a Super Mom
In today’s society I see all forms of mothers. I see working mothers. Single mothers. Mothers with mental health struggles. Mothers who have been affected by sexism, abuse and oversexualization. Women in our society have had a difficult go throughout history, but being a mother appears to be even harder and filled with toxic stress land mines.
You may stumble at the fact that a man is writing this article, but please hang in there. I am a husband to an amazing wife and a counselor to many girls and women. I am also the director of a recovery program for women out of human trafficking called Purchased: Not for Sale. I have daily experiences and reminders of how strong women are. Their beauty and grace during difficult times and pain are astounding and can take my breath away. Many times we laugh and say if giving birth was up to men, humanity would end very soon. That quip sheds light on the natural strength we see in women. Still, this is not an article against men or for women. This is just addressing one topic, and one that I feel could never be overstated.
Toxic stress for women in American culture is at an all-time high. Mothers who have to, or choose to work, want to feel a sense of equality and feel as if culture will not hold them back. Unfortunately for many women, this is not the reality in the workforce.
Sociologist Caitlyn Collins, who spent five years studying parenthood in four wealthy western countries for her report on “Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving,” found that U.S. moms have it the worst.
“Across the countries where I conducted interviews, one desire remained constant among mothers. Women wanted to feel that they were able to combine paid employment and child-rearing in a way that seemed equitable and didn’t disadvantage them at home or at work,” Collins states.
She set out to study work/life balance but instead had to settle for work/life conflict. The pressure for mothers to be everything is an impossible challenge to face. Women are judged for working and judged for staying home. If they choose to stay home, they worry over income, purpose and contributing to society while still carrying most of the emotional and physical workload. If women choose to work outside the home, they gain income, but continue to struggle with the workload and responsibility at home, along with the guilt and shame of not being able to “do it all … well.” The emotional load can be described as a grocery list: what child needs which medicine, are their shoes the right size, is homework done properly, is nutrition sufficient, etc. Typically, these responsibilities fall on the shoulders of mothers. When they work outside the home, this has to be accomplished on the weekends or after 5 p.m. Simply put, women work from 8 to 5, come home, and still have a full emotional workload and expectations that go with it.
The toxic stress comes in when expectations by employers or our society, as a whole, treats mothers as if they are wrong for working and punishes them for having to do simple things such as pump for their nursing child on the job, leave work to care for a sick child, or take off 12 weeks for maternity leave. When a woman is held to a different standard than a man because of anatomy and biology, this comes with anxiety, depression and toxic stress.
I want mothers to understand that the stress that comes from trying to balance caring for children and caring for your career and financial well-being for their family, does not fall on their shoulders alone. We as a society have failed them. We can all do our part to make raising healthy, nurtured and well-adjusted children all of our jobs. Most of the other industrialized nations have managed to work together to figure this out. Why can’t we? We have to empower women and girls to understand that their worth and value is not based on anything external like working, career or staying at home. They’re valued regardless of how they choose to support their family, and men and singles of the world can do a better job of nurturing and raising the children of the future. Women have fought long and hard for equality in many forms. For those of us fighting this fight daily, we see you. We hear you and are fighting alongside you. Don’t give up. America needs you.
Clint Davis, M.S., LPC, CSAT, CCTP, CMAT. Clint Davis Counseling, LLC.Director of recovery for The Hub: Urban Ministry