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66% of working parents feel like they're failing—but the system is actually failing them

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We need a generation that can take over after our own, and we need to make sure we're working to leave them with something. In order for our society to function we need parents and we need workers. But our culture sure doesn't make it easy to be both at the same time.

And if you feel like you are failing at the balancing act, know this: You're not. You're doing the best you can do, and that is enough. It's not you that's failing, mama. It's the system. And it's time to change it, because way too many parents are internalizing blame they don't deserve.

A recent survey found two-thirds of working parents in America feel like they are failing in parenthood because of pressures at work. That's 66% of working parents who are waking up each day feeling like they can't win, and that's not okay.

Teresa Hopke is the CEO of Talking Talent, the firm behind the survey of 1,036 working American parents. "According to our study, a majority of parents feel like they are failing," she tells Motherly, noting that the impact of these feelings of failure often isn't apparent to employers because many working parents get really good at covering or masking their feelings of failure.

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"But digging below the surface, we see the impact showing up in the form of increased stress, a rise in mental health claims, reduced productivity, decreased engagement, and overall impact on well-being," Hopke says.

She explains that in some cases, this results in employees deciding to opt out of their careers, or move from company to company "in hopes of finding someplace where it feels more possible to do it all." In other cases, she says, the desire for control can "translate into an undesirable leadership style."

These issues disproportionately impact mothers, (today's moms are not only devoting more hours to paid work than previous generations, but simultaneously devoting more hours to childcare, according to Pew), but dads are also suffering under the burden of their perceived failure to balance work and home.

This needs to stop. It's time to examine why so many parents are unhappy at work, and what we can do about it.

Why workers aren't using parental leave even when they have it

These days more and more companies are officially adopting parent-friendly policies like paid leave—a welcome first step—but the Talking Talent survey reveals that while these policies look great on paper, workplace culture often prevents parents from feeling like they can actually use them.

The parents surveyed reported taking less parental leave than was available to them: Women used only about 52% of the time they could have, and the men surveyed reported using just 32% of the time available to them.

According to Hopke, this points to a real problem with current parental leave policies—the policies are celebrated, but are not embraced as a practice in our culture. This means that parents are afraid to take the time they need, for fear of being penalized or seen as being uncommitted.

The survey found 64% of parents say they would have been more likely to take a longer leave if their colleagues had.

When it comes to fathers in particular, this phenomenon can be seen even in countries where parental leave isn't an HR policy, but a national one. The UK's shared parental leave scheme allows parents to split up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between partners (parents can take leave one at a time or be at home together with their child for up to six months) but according to the BBC, few fathers (like as low as 2%) take part.

In Canada too, fathers have been reluctant to take the leave available to them, something the government hopes to change with the introduction of a "use-it-or-lose-it" leave policy for fathers and other non-birthing parents. Starting in March 2019, couples will be eligible for five weeks of extra leave, meaning a family can get 40 weeks instead of 35, but only if the second parent uses at least five weeks of that time, CBC reports.

Parents need employers and lawmakers to implement parental leave policies, but we also need our peers to embrace and encourage their use. In 2017 the government in Finland (the country The Economist ranks among the best in which to be a working mother and the only country in the world where fathers spend more time with school-aged children than mothers do) encouraged fathers to make the most of the country's generous parental leave policy by literally launching a PR campaign to get dads to take their "Daddy Time."

American workers might want to take a page from the Finnish government when it comes to encouraging everyone to use their parental leave. According to Hopke, grassroots campaigns within offices could change workplace culture stateside. She says parents should talk about why they are taking their leave in an effort to normalize it.

"Be vocal and transparent about being a working parent. When working parents try to cover in an effort to appear committed to the organization, they not only make it challenging for themselves, they also perpetuate a culture that doesn't value the whole person. We can't ever solve for the problem if the problem isn't brought to the surface," she tells Motherly, adding that while it's great for workers to be vocal, companies need to do more than talk the talk.

"Paid leave policies are a great start, but in order to truly support employees and give them 'permission' to take the time they've been given, organizations need to create a culture of support," she explains. "Raising the visibility of parental leave by providing a robust package of support for both employees and leaders will help everyone feel more comfortable with new parents taking the time away—without guilt."

The childcare problem

Parental leave is a huge factor in the unhappiness of working parents, but childcare is another issue that contributes to moms and dads feeling like failures (when they are so not).

CNN reports American couples spend 25.6% of their income on childcare and single parents spend a whopping 52.7% on having their children watched while they work. As Motherly has previously reported, day care in America can cost as much as rent, or more than college in an era when many families find getting by on a single income impossible.

Childcare is expensive, but those who have it (even when it drains the bank account) consider themselves lucky, because many working American parents struggle just to find quality childcare.

Research shows high-quality day care programs are good for kids' emotional and prosocial development, but when parents can't find that kind of child care (due to long wait lists, a lack of choices in their area or prohibitive prices) and have to go with their second or third choice of childcare, they may spend the work day feeling guilty about leaving their child with a babysitter they don't trust.

In the search for solutions, we might again look to Finland, where The Guardian reports "the state provides universal daycare." The biggest bill parents could expect for day care in Finland is the equivalent of about $330 a month (the national average in the U.S. is about $800, according to Care.com, and can get closer to $2,000 in some cities). And in Finland, finding high-quality childcare doesn't mean doing endless preschool tours, internet searches, interviews and waitlists. According to one parent The Guardian spoke with

"I guess the big difference is it is not stressful at all," father Tuomas Aspiala told The Guardian. "Someone else organizes everything."

According to Aspiala, when his children were waitlisted for day care due to a lack of available spots,the city of Helsinki organized a nanny share to look after them until spots opened up at the childcare center.

"The situation at the day care centre is really fantastic. It's really close, the people who look after the children are wonderful," Aspiala told The Guardian. "We really don't feel guilty about leaving them there at all."

If American parents could go to work without feeling guilty about where they are leaving their children, would 66% be feeling like failures? Probably not.

Finland's childcare solution sounds like a dream come true, but let's be real, no one is holding their breath waiting for the adoption of a similar system stateside.

In the absence of a national childcare solution, what can be done to help working parents who are bearing the emotional burden of a system that works against them?

Parents shouldn't cover for the system's failures, and should speak up

According to Hopke, individuals can challenge the system by being more understanding of all who are working within it. "[One] thing employees can do is challenge themselves to be more inclusive of all people and needs. The more we create a culture that values diversity and inclusion, the more likely people within an organization are to ask about and support the needs of everyone, including working parents."

When this happens, change can move up in a company, and again, Hopke says parents need to be vocal about what we need and know that we are assets to our employers because of our dual role, not despite it.

"Organizing with others from a grassroots level to advocate for change is also something I advise. Many organizations we work with implement policies and programs as a result of efforts that came from a group of employees rather than an idea from HR or benefits," Hopke explains.

Maybe you have an idea for implementing or optimizing parental leave, on-site day care, childcare subsidies, or flexible work arrangements that could be the catalyst for removing the burden of perceived failure from your fellow employees' shoulders.

"Ask leaders tough questions about why they don't support parents in the way that you are looking for and let them know that you know why it is important to the organization to value parents more," Hopke suggests. "And in the end if you don't get the answers you want, then do your research to find an organization that provides a culture you are looking for. They are out there and the more we push the envelope within our current organizations, the more there will be over time."

Unfortunately, change does take time, but if you are feeling like a failure as a working parent, don't.

You are doing what you need to do right now for your family and there is nothing wrong with that. But remember that you can use your voice (and your vote come election time—ask your reps about childcare and paid leave!) to change the culture that is making individual parents shoulder the pressure for an entire work culture.

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I honestly can't remember how I used to organize and share baby photos before I started using FamilyAlbum. (What am I saying? I could never keep all those pictures organized!) Like most mamas, I often found myself with a smartphone full of photos and videos I didn't know what to do with. My husband and I live states away from our respective families, and we worried about the safety of posting our children's photos on other platforms.

Then we found FamilyAlbum.

FamilyAlbum is the only family-first photo sharing app that safely files photos and videos by date taken in easy-to-navigate digital albums. From documenting a pregnancy to capturing the magical moments of childhood, the app makes sharing memories with your family simple and safe. And it provides free, unlimited storage—meaning you can snap and snap and snap to your heart's delight without ever being forced to choose which close-up of your newborn's tiny little nose you want to keep.

Try FamilyAlbum for Free

And, truly, the app is a much-needed solution for mamas with out-of-state family. Parents can share all their favorite memories with friends and relatives safely within the app without worrying about spamming acquaintances with every adorable baby yawn the way you might on a social network or a long text thread. (Did I mention I have a thing for baby yawn videos? I regret nothing 😍) It's safe because your album is only visible to the people you share it with. The app will even notify album members when new photos have been posted so they can comment on their favorite moments and we can preserve their reactions forever. It's also easy for my husband and I to share our photos and videos. All of our memories are organized in one place, and we never have to miss out on seeing each other's best shots.

And because #mombrain is real, I especially appreciate how much work FamilyAlbum takes off my plate. From automatically organizing photos and videos by month and labeling them by age (so I can skip doing the math in my head to figure out if my daughter was five or six months when she started sitting up) to remembering what I upload and preventing me from uploading the same photo four times, the app makes it easy to keep all my memories tidy—even when life feels anything but.

FamilyAlbum will quickly become your family's solution for sharing moments, like when you're sending a video to the grandma across the country. Grandparents need only tap open the app to get a peek into what is going on with our girls every day. When my sister sends her nieces a present, the app has become where I can share photos and video of the girls opening their gifts so she never feels like she's missing a thing. The app will even automatically create paper photo books of your favorite shots that you can purchase every month so you can hold on to the memories forever (or to share with the great-grandma who has trouble with her smartphone 😉). Plus, you can update the books with favorite photos or create your own from scratch. No matter what, the app keeps your photos and videos safe, even if your phone is lost or damaged.

But what I love most about FamilyAlbum is that it's family-first. Unlike other photo sharing platforms, it was designed with mamas (and their relatives!) in mind, creating a safe, simple space to share our favorite moments with our favorite people. And that not only helps us keep in touch—it helps us all feel a little bit closer.

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Today's moms spend more time with their kids than ever before, but we're also working a ton in paid and unpaid roles. According to a recent study out of the UK, mothers who work full-time and are raising two or more kids are 40% more stressed than working women with no children.

So many moms feel like if they could just add more hours to the day so they do could more they would be less stressed, but the key to decreasing our stress and maximizing our potential might actually be doing less, not more.

Tiffany Dufu is a mother of two, the founder and CEO of The Cru; a peer coaching service for professional women, and the author of Drop the Ball: Achieving More By Doing Less. On the latest episode of The Motherly Podcast, sponsored by Prudential, Dufu tells Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety that the key to achieving more, in motherhood and our careers, is making strategic choices about what you can drop.

For Dufu, who witnessed her own mother fall into poverty, financial stability was an important part of what she felt would make her a good mom. "Some women have children and they want to be at home. They want to stay at home. I had children and I wanted to put my foot on the gas pedal in terms of my career. I wanted to make money," she explains.

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And before her kids arrived, she had an idea of what that would look like. In her mind's eye she saw herself keeping a clean house, sitting down to dinner with her family each night and still breaking boundaries in her career. But her first day back at work after her maternity leave was shockingly different than how she'd pictured working motherhood.

She found herself sitting on the floor of the bathroom, expressing breast milk into the toilet because she "couldn't handle both the pump and the bottle."

"It was like literally a mess and I was crying on my way home in my designer suit with like gross milk on my nice silk blouse," she explains. "It was a huge turning point because it was the first time that reality hit."

In the 12 years since that episode, Dufu has been redefining working motherhood in a way that works for her, rewriting the cultural programming girls grow up absorbing. "From the moment that you were wrapped in a pink blanket you've been receiving messages about who you are and what you should be. And that's a very kind of daunting realization for someone who feels like I did, that you're in the driver's seat of your own life."

Dufu's used that driver's seat to clear a road for other women. She's run a national women's leadership organization that's trained thousands of women to run for office, and helped so many women develop careers they are passionate about. But in order to do this, Dufu had to decide which metaphorical balls she was going to drop.

"I don't manage my kid's social calendar and that usually means that my kids miss a lot of birthday parties because we don't live in an evolved world in which people send birthday party invitations to children's fathers," she explains. "So when it comes in my inbox and I have to ask myself my 'dropped the ball' question, [I ask] is responding to this birthday party invite my highest and best use in raising a conscious global citizen?'"

If the answer is no, they skip the birthday party.

For Dufu, motherhood isn't about doing it all, it's about choosing what to do by being real about how much time is in the day and being strategic about how she invests that time. "It means that we hedge our bets and we decide I'm not going to puree this baby food today because I'm working on a better future for this child," says Dufu.

Sometimes being the mom and person you want to be means you won't be following a script pre-approved by society, but you will be free to write your own story.

To hear more about Tiffany Dufu's experiences in motherhood and her career listen to The Motherly Podcast, sponsored by Prudential, for the full interview.

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For some celebrities, pregnancy is a time to retreat from the public eye and be more strategic about what they share online. They guard their personal lives a little closer, and their social media presence gets a little more curated.

But when Amy Schumer announced her pregnancy in October, she didn't stop sharing. We saw—and heard, in some of her more graphic Insta stories—just how hard this pregnancy and the resulting hyperemesis (an extreme form of morning sickness) have been on Schumer.

Schumer's humor has always been real, and her new Netflix special, Growing, is one of the realest descriptions of pregnancy I've ever seen on my TV.

As a mom who didn't glow as much as I groaned through my pregnancy, I laughed so hard I cried. And as a mom of a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I cried tears of relief.

In one hour Amy Schumer simultaneously made me feel seen and helped me see a happy future for my son, and I can't thank her enough.

[Warning, light spoilers ahead]

Amy Schumer: Growing | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix www.youtube.com


The Netflix description for this special describes it as "both raunchy and sincere" and that's totally accurate. If you've seen Schumer's previous Netflix special, you know you can't watch this until the kids are in bed.

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In Growing Schumer proves that pregnancy didn't make her a different person or take the curse words out of her vocabulary. She is who she is, she just happens to be becoming a mom, too.

And becoming a mom has not been easy. Schumer's description of yeast infections, and vomiting and hemorrhoids and all the parts of pregnancy that nobody puts on a felt letter board gave me flashbacks and validation.

In Growing, Schumer is saying that it's okay not to love being pregnant and that it doesn't mean you don't love that baby growing inside you. It's a message more women need to hear because it's hard to see photo after photo of smiling mamas sporting cute bumps and wonder if you're the only woman who doesn't love feeling someone sit on your bladder.

That feeling (the emotional one, not the bladder one) made me feel alone in my pregnancy, but it's been three years since I wondered if there was something wrong with me. These days, I'm more worried about whether my son, who is now a preschooler, will grow up to think there's something wrong with him.

As the mother of a kid on the spectrum, I gasped when Schumer explained that her husband, Chris Fischer, is too. I sobbed when she described some of her husband's quirks, because I see them everyday in my son.

I don't want to spoil the special too much, but let me tell you this: In revealing that her husband, the father of her future child, is on the spectrum, Schumer gave me so much hope.

I'm so grateful that Schumer (and Fischer, who must be on board with this) shared that bit of info because sitting there in front of my TV all the versions of my son's future that got erased when we got our ASD diagnosis came flooding back.

I could see him as a grown man, and he wasn't alone. He was falling in love with a partner like Schumer. He was becoming a father like Fischer. He was happy (and different, in the way Schumer describes her husband) but he wasn't alone.

Schumer's trademark raunch isn't for everybody, but her authenticity and vulnerability sure is for me. For 60 minutes I watched a woman stand alone on a stage and I felt less alone.

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It's been four years since the Zika virus outbreak had health officials warning pregnant women to stay out of certain regions where the mosquito-borne virus was flourishing, but now health officials around the world are downgrading those warnings.

Stateside, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has eased warnings that previously advised women who were pregnant or trying to conceive to avoid traveling to dozens of countries and regions.

Now, the CDC guidelines simply recommend "pregnant women and couples planning a pregnancy within the next 3 months consult with a health care provider" before traveling to areas where Zika has previously been reported.

Only one region in the world has an active Zika outbreak. The Indian state of Rajasthan has that unfortunate distinction and the CDC recommendations still urge against visiting that area if you're pregnant or trying. The rest of the world though? That's your call.

The CDC's downgrade follows a similar move in February by Public Health England, and precedes an expected announcement from the World Health Organization, the Washington Post reports.

Zika activity around the globe has calmed considerably in recent years. Brazil, which saw hundreds of thousands of cases of Zika infection in 2016, had more than 2,000 babies who were impacted by "developmental and growth alternations possibly related to Zika virus infection," including microcephaly, "a condition where a baby's head is much smaller than expected," according to the CDC.

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There is no vaccine for Zika, and while pregnant women can take precautions, like wearing long sleeves and insect repellent to protect from mosquitos and avoiding outdoor activities at dawn and dusk, the easing of the travel advisories does not mean there is zero risk, just that it has been greatly diminished since 2015/2016.

"Where there are those big outbreaks, we're definitely going to tell you not to go," Martin Cetron, the director of the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine said in an interview with the Washington Post. "Where there is a range of possibilities, from no Zika to low-level background Zika, we're going to tell you there's been virus there before; it could still be there. If you're a zero-risk person, don't go. If you're not, you decide."

Some high profile mothers had already been making that call even before the CDC lightened up the guidelines. Last fall the newly pregnant Duchess of Sussex, the former Meghan Markle, traveled to areas previously impacted by Zika, Fiji and Tonga.

There is no word yet on exactly when the WHO will ease its guidelines, and even when it does, pregnant women should still talk to their doctor before traveling internationally.

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It may seem like there are more recalls than ever these days, but that's actually a good thing for parents. It means fewer potentially dangerous products are making it to our dinner tables and medicine cabinets.

According to food safety experts, the spike in recall notices for everything from broccoli to baby toys in recent years suggests companies are doing a better job of self-reporting, and we're actually safer than we were in the days when recalls were rare.

"It reflects a food industry that takes contamination and foodborne illnesses seriously. Increasingly companies are willing to recall their products rather than expose customers to potential harm," Dr. William Hallman, professor and chair of Rutgers Department of Human Ecology, said in an interview with Food Drive."So more companies are taking a cautionary approach."

Here are the recalls parents need to know about this month:

Dollar General baby cough syrup

The FDA announced a recall of 2-fluid ounce (59 mL) bottles of DG/health NATURALS baby Cough Syrup + Mucus sold at Dollar General stores.

The manufacturer is recalling lot KL180157 because the medicine is possibly contaminated with Bacillus cereus, which can lead to two forms of gastrointestinal illness and cause vomiting or diarrhea.

"Most often, illnesses are mild and self-limiting, although more serious and even lethal cases have occurred. Individuals at risk for more severe forms of illness include infants, young children, and others with weakened immune systems," the FDA notes.

So far, no babies have become ill after taking this product, but if you have it in your home you should return it to the store or call 1-844-724-7347.

Dollar General Baby Gripe Water

The above cough syrup recall follows another recall of a Dollar General product. Last month the FDA issued a recall notice for "DC Baby Gripe Water herbal supplement with organic ginger and fennel extracts" after the company received one report of a one-week old baby who had difficulty swallowing the product, and there were three other complaints "attributed to the undissolved citrus flavonoid."

The FDA says "the product should not be considered hazardous but could result in difficulty when swallowing the product for sensitive individuals."

Basically, it's not harmful if swallowed but the undissolved flavonoid makes it a choking hazard.

The gripe water was sold at Dollar General stores in four ounce bottles with the UPC code 8 5495400246 3.

69,000+ pounds of Tyson chicken strips are being recalled: What parents need to know 

Another chicken product is being recalled. On March 20, 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced a recall classified as high risk. Some 69,000 pounds of Tyson frozen, ready-to-eat chicken strip may be contaminated with pieces of metal.

Earlier this year Tyson recalled 36,420 pounds of nuggets for a similar reason.

All the recalled products have a use-by date of November 30, 2019. The recall includes the following varieties:

  • Tyson FULLY COOKED BUFFALO STYLE CHICKEN STRIPS CHICKEN BREAST STRIP FRITTERS WITH RIB MEAT AND BUFFALO STYLE SAUCE" case codes 3348CNQ0317 and 3348CNQ0318
  • Tyson FULLY COOKED CRISPY CHICKEN STRIPS CHICKEN BREAST STRIP FRITTERS WITH RIB MEAT" case codes 3348CNQ0419, 3348CNQ0420, 3348CNQ0421, and 3348CNQ0422
  • SPARE TIME FULLY COOKED, BUFFALO STYLE CHICKEN STRIPS CHICKEN BREAST STRIP FRITTERS WITH RIB MEAT AND BUFFALO STYLE SAUCE" with case code 3348CNQ03.

"The problem was discovered when FSIS received two consumer complaints of extraneous material in the chicken strip products," the agency notes. "There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about an injury or illness should contact a healthcare provider."

If you have these chicken strips, throw them away or call Tyson at 1-866-886-8456.

[A version of this post was originally published February 21, 2019. It has been updated.]

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