From staying on top of bills to getting food on the table every night, the responsibilities of parenthood are extensive and stress-inducing, even for two-parent households. Yet data shows that most of the responsibilities of parenthood, including domestic labor, tend to fall on the shoulders of mothers.1 Add workplace duties to the mix and then a pandemic, and it’s no surprise why The New York Times reported at the beginning of 2021 that “American mothers are in crisis.”2 But does it really have to be this way? Or can we find a way to redefine roles and build a better support system for moms?
America’s Definition of Motherhood
Lyz Lenz, author of Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women, writes in TIME that the truth about American motherhood is that “we have built an entire economy on the backs of unpaid and poorly paid women.”3 Though gender roles have shifted in the nation, the expectation that the mother should take on the lion’s share of domestic tasks, no matter what other responsibilities she has, is still as true today as it was decades ago.
During the pandemic, this unfair division of labor worsened to the point that 5.4 million women lost their jobs, many of them mothers who were unable to find a way to juggle work and childcare.4 It didn’t help that American mothers already had little support in public policy. Despite being the richest country in the world,5 the U.S. ranked last in family-friendly policies according to a UNICEF study, such as paid leave for mothers and childcare enrollment, against 40 other developed countries.6 It was also the only country that offered zero federally-mandated weeks of maternity leave.
Common Causes of Mom Stress in the U.S.
In a study of American mothers and their counterparts in other nations, sociologist Caitlyn Collins found America’s lack of supportive public policy to be the reason why it’s harder to be a mom in America than in any other developed country.7 With no paid leave, no minimum standard for vacation and sick days, a high gender wage gap, and a lack of affordable childcare, it’s no wonder mothers were already at a tipping point before the pandemic even hit. According to Motherly’s 2020 State of Motherhood survey, researchers found that U.S. moms are drowning in stress for the following reasons:
For working mothers, lack of adequate childcare was the biggest source of stress
Having more than one child contributed to feelings of “burnout” for both working and stay-at-home mothers (though stay-at-home mothers report “parenting burnout” more than paid-working mothers)
The pressure of being the primary caregiver was another source of stress for mothers, even amongst married moms, with only 30 percent reporting they shared household responsibilities with their partner
Lack of sleep and general self-care also contributed to mother stress according to the survey
Why Are Moms More Stressed than Dads?
If you’re a stressed out mom, it may be irritating to hear that dads have more fun, but that’s exactly what Cornell researcher Kelly Musick reported in a 2016 study published in the American Sociological Review. In the study, mothers reported “less happiness, more stress, and greater fatigue” than their male counterparts and Musick identified a few key factors why.
According to Musick and her co-authors, there are broader and more realistic models of what it means to be “a good dad” as compared to what constitutes “a good mom.” Models of good fatherhood have emphasized roles as breadwinners and caretakers in varying degrees, leaving room for enjoyment and less pressure when it comes to societal expectations, but there seems to be only one model for good motherhood: the “committed, ever-available [and] deeply involved” mother. While mothers may derive more meaning from parenting than fathers, they also experience more stress when stretched too thin.
Redefining Roles & Calling for Support
The institution of motherhood is due for a makeover. Having an honest discussion with your partner is one way to figure out a fair division of labor at home, but bigger changes are also needed from outside the home, like better paid leave mandates, more affordable childcare, and more flexible and forgiving models when it comes to what constitutes “good motherhood.”
If you’re a mother and chronic stress has led to chronic anxiety, Brillia may help you deal with the demands of daily life while public policy measures play catch-up. A non-prescription, homeopathic remedy that helps to reduce feelings of anxiety and irritability and enhance focus, Brillia works best when used in tandem with healthier lifestyle choices like proper nutrition, adequate sleep and mindfulness. Moms deserve better support and the topic has never been more urgent. Dads shouldn’t be the only ones who have fun.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a certificate in Narrative Therapy. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, and VICE.