The life of a working mother is not easy. No one understands the pressures that working mothers face daily. Behind the façade of the working mom, who seems like she has it under control, lies the mother, who is one email away from having a breakdown.
As much as our feminist ancestors did for us, gender roles haven’t changed much. Working mothers are still expected to do the majority of the child-rearing and take on the household duties while working 37.5 hours per week.
This leaves the working mom overtired, overworked and paid way less than our male counterparts.
These days it is challenging to live in a one-income household. The cost of living, the price of raising children, the cost of post-secondary education, and the rising cost of gasoline and groceries are many reasons working moms feel that they don’t have a choice but to work full time.
The struggle is overwhelming and takes a significant toll on the working mothers’ mental health.
The Struggle is Real
Many new Mothers face the challenges of motherhood alone.
As much as women have made progress over the years in attaining better pay, significant promotions, and more recognition in the workplace, the expectations and, quite frankly, the reality is, is the mother stays home with the kids.
Most families can’t afford nannies, and in a two-income household, most women still earn less than their partner or spouse. So, in most cases, the mom is the one who takes parental leave.
Mom deals with the overnight feedings, the appointments, the household chores, prepping of meals, school drop-offs, pick-ups, and homework and then have to try to be a supportive spouse/partner while running on empty.
I know a mother whose spouse leaves for work at 6 am and doesn’t come home until 5 pm.
She gets up at 5:30/6 am to make herself a coffee and gets in 30 minutes of silence before the day’s craziness begins.
Then, she gets her kids up at 6:30, makes breakfast, starts lunches (because in most cases is too tired to make them the night before), gets herself dressed and ready for the day, then gets the kids dressed, teeth brushed, hair combed and is out the door with them by 7:50 am.
She is one of the lucky ones that work from home. So, when the kids are dropped off, she returns and starts her workday. But dishes need to be washed, and dinner needs to be prepped. So she takes calls, returns emails, and works on reports while squeezing in household chores.
School pick-up commences, the kids return home from school, and it is snack and homework time. Oh, and by the way, she is still working.
Dinner is ready; her spouse comes home from work, then the dishes and prepared for the next day. And just because her husband is home does not mean their kids go to him when they need something. Nope. They continue to ask Mom for help, ask Mom to play, and ask Mom to wipe their bums.
Baths are up next; kids are in pajamas, and if Mom is lucky, they are in bed by eight, actually sleeping. But, the reality is that for the next 45 minutes, the kids are demanding water, a lost stuffie, sleep music, extra hugs because of the monsters in the closet, and then Mom finally yelling to go to sleep!
Now it’s about 9 pm, she gets to shower, and if she goes to bed, she feels guilty that she hasn’t given her partner the time he needs of her. So, she stays up until 10, drinking a glass of wine or a cup of tea with him, and they talk about their days or watch a little tv. Then, if she isn’t too tired, he might be privy to a bit of intimacy. The stress levels can be so darn high.
There is no time to recharge, little or no vacation time, no set boundaries, and mindset could suffer.
This is the reality for most Mothers.
Mothers struggle with the demands of their days while working and then with home life demands. And I think most Mothers can attest to this, but it doesn’t matter how supportive their spouse/partner is.
The kids come to Mom for everything. The other parent can be standing right in front of them, waving a red flag, screaming at the top of their lungs, and your kid will walk right by them, come into the bathroom while you are peeing, and ask you for a snack.
Imagine having to do this as a single parent? Most moms feel like single parents even when having a supportive partner/spouse because kids gravitate towards mom. That’s their comfort zone. But at least when you have a partner, you know you can forcefully peel yourself away from the child that has decided to velcro themselves to you and run out the door to go grocery shopping ALONE.
But a single mother has to be a mom and dad, breadwinner, disciplinarian, and caregiver and rarely has time to fill her own very depleted cup.
Moms are expected to be Supermoms. On social media, the perfect picture of a perfect mom and her perfect kids in a clean white living room is the perfect example (see what I did there?) of the unrealistic world society thinks moms should live in.
But in reality, we are just holding on by a literal thread. Our hobbies are gone, we have a poor work-life balance, and quality time diminishes by the day. Our achievements and goals are often put aside, and our personal life/personal time suffers.
To Stay Home or to not Stay Home.
According to a 2019 Pew Research article, Estonia leads the way in paid parental leave, offering 86 weeks of paid parental leave.
Japan and many European countries also provide a significant amount of paid parental leave. The U.S., on the other hand, offers zero, according to this article: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/12/16/u-s-lacks-mandated-paid-parental-leave/.
Canada increased its paid parental leave to 18 months, which many new parents have taken advantage of.
Most organizations offer top-up benefits for parental leave, which helps offset the loss of total income for a year; however, it’s rarely enough if you ask any parent.
Children are expensive because, like everything else, prices for essential baby items continue to increase. Diapers and formulas are not cheap.
The financial burdens that parents take, whether it is their first or third child, while the other parent is on leave can be significant.
The emotional ups and downs while on leave are also great, and if you live in the U.S., imagine having to deal with those emotions and then returning to work three months postpartum?
Unfortunately for many mothers, this is the reality they face.
Mothers are challenged with being overlooked at home and in the workplace. When Mothers take parental leave, they face the reality of missing out on promotions, pay increases, and the ability to balance work and family.
Working Mothers face silent scrutiny because they take days off to be at home when it comes to sick children.
And then there is the internal dialogue that comes with being a working Mother.
I am not pulling my weight at work or at home.
I can’t put my name in for that promotion because who will take the kids to their afterschool programs when I am needed for a last-minute conference call?
I didn’t get that pay raise because I can barely make it to work on time after school drop-offs.
I can barely keep it together because I am so tired.
I am not good enough, strong enough, smart enough.
My boss seems so put together and in control of her home and work life when I can barely find a blouse that doesn’t have food, spit-up, or snot all over it to wear to work.
Mom guilt plays a huge role in the working mom’s world. After having a tough day at work, the balancing act of being present for your children, needing to finish dinner, and folding the laundry in your dryer since last Saturday is almost unbearable.
Why do many working moms in top executive positions fail to realize that “leaning in” is impossible when you aren’t making six figures and can’t afford a nanny, housekeeper, and personal chef?
Many families do not have parents or other family members to lean on for childcare when Mom goes back to work.
The cost of child care is incredibly high, and according to cbc.ca, Canada, the U.S, and Ireland have the highest cost, with 32-52% of a single parent’s income going toward child care: https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/oecd-child-care-costs-1.3815954.
And these are after-tax dollars! This financial burden is a central topic of conversation for many families, and the debate begins on whether to stay home or not to stay home.
Is it worth having 50% of one’s salary go to child care? Especially when you calculate the number of hours a parent spends working at home and their full-time job? Most full-time moms work long hours, and that raises daycare costs.
For some, it is because at least there is an additional source of income supporting the household, even if it is only 50%.
The alternative is to be down to one income and be the full-time caretaker of your children. For many women, this option is the one that gives them the most satisfaction and joy.
They would rather not deal with the pressure and guilt associated with being a working mother and they thrive being at home with their children.
The days can be long as a full-time stay-at-home mom, but the time spent with their children is something that cannot be replaced. We need to also know that some moms don’t want to be stay-at-home moms, which is acceptable. Being a stay-at-home mom does not come without its challenges and is a full-time job on its own. It’s also very hard to find a good work-life balance as a stay-at-home mom.
Your Weekends are no longer than the Boozy Brunch Weekends of the Past.
We all look forward to the weekend. After a tough week, busting our butts to bring home a paycheque, the weekends are a light at the end of a tunnel. The chance to sleep in, the opportunity for some me-time. This is where you’d think you’d be able to find a healthy work-life balance.
Except when you have children.
The working mother’s weekend is no longer hers.
The weekends are when the working mother gets the household chores done, such as laundry.
Grocery shopping for the week is done on the weekend in anticipation of the meal prep day, usually on Sundays.
Throw in kids enrolled in extracurricular activities or sports, and you have another item added to the working mothers’ weekend list.
And don’t forget the birthday parties! Add this to the list, and you can see how the working mom rarely stops working.
Don’t’ get me wrong. In most relationships, domestic responsibilities are divided, especially during the weekend.
Of course, partners will pick up the slack, especially if a newborn is involved.
For the most part, households get into a groove of shared responsibilities, and it works.
However, most working Moms are lucky to get a moment to themselves on the weekends.
It’s sad, but it rarely does happen.
Mental Health and the Working Mom
I know a woman who suffered from postpartum depression for three years after giving birth to her son. She knew she had postpartum depression after giving birth.
However, she did not believe that’s what she was suffering from once she was back at work full time. She thought it had morphed into something else.
And it was hell.
It was only when she started to have panic attacks that she realized something just wasn’t right. After a mental breakdown, it took her another two years to realize that a change was needed like yesterday.
She realized that her high-paying career was suffocating her and taking away precious time with her son.
She realized that she couldn’t have it all. The only way to have it all was to sacrifice something for the notion that she could.
She also realized that so many influential female figures that were role models for her were feeding into a belief that was detrimental to the mental health of all women.
According to the National Institute for health, about 5% of women experience prolonged postpartum depression three years after giving birth. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/postpartum-depression-may-last-years.
I would argue to say that the number is probably much higher.
Mothers tend to downplay the way they feel. They push feelings of worthlessness, sadness, guilt, and anxiety aside because they believe they aren’t allowed to feel this way.
They think they need to be the pillar of strength for their families.
Working mums do not get sick, and neither do stay-at-home mums. They suffer in silence.
The mental burden on Mothers was significant before the pandemic.
There was a whole new level of burnout, stress, and depression while the working mother had to navigate balancing work and online schooling while being forced to stay home.
Even today, after women like Anne-Marie Slaughter, leave high-paying, powerful careers to focus on their families or a better work-life balance, society questions and criticize their motives.
Most working women are stretched too thin these days, and we are starting to see a shift in the mentality of working mothers.
Mothers returning to work after maternity leave are not necessarily returning to the jobs they held previously. Many working mothers start job searching while on maternity, and they actively seek out roles in companies that offer flexible work options such as working from home.
Some consider going part-time, and we see an influx of women who utilize their expertise to consult for the same companies they decided to walk away from.
Consulting allows them to work their hours which is a significant benefit in juggling the demands of the working mom.
Others are turning to freelance writing and blogging to pursue their passions. Mommy blogs have become a vast market, and money will be made there.
Not every mother is the same, and not every experience is the same. There is an audience out there for every mom blog.
Ways to Ease the Burdens of the Working Mother
Ask for Help
The biggest thing any mother can do is to let go of the idea that she needs to do it all and be everything for everyone else.
Asking for help is critical, especially from your partner. Be open about the way you feel. Maybe there is an opportunity to shift the workload at home to be more balanced.
Speak to your partner about opportunities to shift from working full-time to part-time. You need to be on the same page financially and if there is room to step back from a career that is too demanding, then do it.
Maybe the conversation is about your partner making a change and becoming a stay-at-home parent instead of you. Gender roles have changed over the past 20 years, and we see more stay home dads than ever before.
Prioritize yourself by setting guidelines when it comes to me-time. A friend of mine has a set schedule where she practices yoga at a studio Tuesday and Thursday evenings every week.
That is her time, and her partner is responsible for dishes, baths, and bedtime on those days.
Meditation and Yoga
Meditation and yoga are incredible ways to help ground you and keep you present. If there is a way to squeeze this time in for yourself, then take advantage of it. It immediately boosts your mood, and if you implement it into your daily habits, you will feel less stressed and happier.
Surround Yourself With Positivity
Surround yourself with positive people who uplift and motivate you. Look at the relationships in your life and determine if you need a friend or even a family detox.
It’s great to have people around to commiserate with, but negativity will always surround you if everything you talk about is negative. It will seep into the relationships you have with your children and spouse. And as a working mother, you don’t need the additional stress of broken relationships with your spouse and kids.
Make sure to do a phone detox. Turn it off the minute you come home from work and everyone is home with you. The people nearest and dearest to you are safe with you, so that phone need not be turned on.
Let go of Mom Guilt
Try to let go of the guilt. For many working mothers, the option to not work is just simply not an option. Unfortunately, that’s the reality many of us face.
We cannot continue to feel guilty about contributing to our households.
We also cannot afford not to be honest with our kids, especially if they are at an age where they can somewhat grasp the concept that Mommy needs to work.
Intentional Time With the One’s You Love
Setting aside 30 minutes before bedtime every day to sit with your kids and let them talk about the latest and greatest without disruption reconnects you and makes them feel important.
Be honest about needing a little me time and how this alone time allows you to be a better mommy. When kids feel like they are involved and important, they feel good, and you start to feel less guilty.
Finding that Work-Life Balance for Working Moms
Being a mother is the most demanding job in the world. Being a working mother is even more challenging.
All the pressure we put on ourselves and the societal pressures we face do not make this job any easier.
I’m not sure that mothers will ever find the perfect balance between work and home. But things are slowly changing, and we are finding ways to shift that balance so that life feels a bit less stressful.
Companies recognize that women require flexible work schedule options, and many companies are moving from traditional 9-5 work hours.
Having a flexible schedule is a great way to get more work-life balance. Also, remember to take short breaks often to take some time to relax and unwind. Don’t just take your lunch break; take a walk, go for coffee.
Many companies have instilled no email or calls after 5 pm policies. And working from home is becoming the norm.
These shifts in how work is done is incredibly positive and have come a long way.
Now, if we could also work on pay equality! I guess we just need to take it one step at a time.
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