For many of us, motherhood is the realization of a dream and the most powerful love we have ever experienced, but in this experience, we also realize just how unrealistic society’s expectations for moms are.
Recently, mom of three Sarah Buckley Friedberg took to Facebook to vent some of her frustrations about the unrealistic and unreasonable expectations society places on new moms.
“Go back to work 6-8 weeks after having the baby. The baby that you spent 9-10 months growing inside of your body. Go back to work before you have finished healing or have had time to bond with your baby,” she writes, adding, “Also breastfeed for at least a year. So take 2-3 pumping breaks a day at work, but don’t let it throw you off your game or let you lose your focus.”
She continues: “Maintain a clean, Pinterest worthy house. Take the Christmas lights down. Recycle. Be Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the birthday planner, the poop doula (seriously when will this end), the finder of lost things, the moderator of fights. Be fun. Be firm. Read books. Have dance parties.”
In her now viral Facebook post, Buckley Friedberg put into words a feeling that so many mothers deal with every day. We are trying to raise children that will be a force for good in society, but it can feel like we have no support from society in our mission.
Buckley Friedberg tells Motherly she typed up the post after a really hard, long day at work. Her kids had been at the zoo without her that day, and she was feeling sad about missing that experience with them and was trying to get everybody fed and put to bed that evening.
“My almost 4-year-old threw a massive 45-minute tantrum because we made the wrong kind of pasta for dinner. By the time we got all three kids to bed, I was exhausted and frustrated. I quickly jotted down a rant on Facebook, and a friend asked if she could share it so I made it public,” she tells Motherly.
The post went viral from there because it is so relatable. In it Buckley Friedberg notes that most mothers are responsible for maintaining the household schedule, running children to doctor’s appointments and rearranging their own schedule when the kids are sick.
As she points out, this puts moms between a rock and a hard place: Society tells us to practice self-care and take vacations, but that’s hard to do when you’ve run through all your vacation days because your kids had the flu. We’re expected to be all things to everyone, and it can feel impossible.
The comments section is full of mothers who identify with Buckley Friedberg’s frustration.
“The majority of the comments and shares have been so positive and encouraging. Most of them say something along the lines of ‘this is exactly how I feel’ or ‘how did you write exactly what is always running through my head?’,” she tells Motherly. “I also think that as a society we do not talk about this enough—which makes those of us struggling feel isolated since it seems like everyone else has everything together so perfectly. I think it resonated with many other moms who do not feel like they have everything together at all times.”
When ‘having it all’ means doing it all
We’ve come so far since women entered the workforce, and today’s dads do a lot more than their own fathers did, but we can’t pretend that all things are equal for parents in heterosexual partnerships.
As one Facebook commenter wrote under Buckley Friedberg’s rant: “Gen X and Xennial women were sold the dream that we can have it all, ‘career and family.’ While we were being raised to pursue this, our future husbands were NOT being raised to understand equal partnership and how to perform emotional labor. The result: we literally DO have it ALL! The lion’s share—90% of the domestic responsibility on top of careers.”
It’s a passionate comment, but one that shouldn’t be written off as hyperbole.
Today in America, 71.5% of moms are working moms. Today, women are way more likely to be college-educated then men, but also more likely to be doing the dishes and getting the kids off to school. About half of the mothers in America who live with the father of their child(ren) say they do more chores around the house than dad does (and it should be noted that the men don’t see it that way—only 32% of them say mama is doing more.)
This is hard on mothers who work outside the home and then come home to work a second shift as the cook, chauffeur, laundress and, to use Buckley Friedberg’s term, poop doula. And it’s also hard on marriages.
According to a study published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, relationships between partnered moms and dads suffer when mothers feel they’ve had to pull back at work because they’re doing more than dad does at home. “Mothers in dual-earner households experience greater parenting inequalities than do similarly-situated fathers,” the researchers note.
We know today’s dads really want to be more involved than they are in childcare, and most say that equal chore sharing is important to a successful relationship, but mothers are still the default parent in many homes.
Society needs to support parents more
As the default parent, moms are both the household managers and the emergency backup system. When a child is sick, there’s no discussion of who is going to miss work that day, it’s obvious that mom will because she’s the default parent. Her presence as a backup system allows her partner to be (or at least seem to be) a lot of the things that employers love: Focused, dependable and present.
This isn’t happening because moms aren’t trying hard enough (trust us, we’re trying!) it’s happening because society doesn’t have our backs, and isn’t supporting fathers, either. The United States the only member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that has not implemented paid leave on a national basis, and America’s work culture wasn’t created with parents in mind.
This is why American moms are the most stressed-out parents in the world. Moms like Buckley Friedberg are ringing the alarm bells, and hopefully, employers and lawmakers will hear them and implement paid leave policies, and, importantly, encourage both mothers and fathers to use them.
When society decides to support all parents, fathers will be able to do more, moms will be able to do less, and families will be better off for it.
“Until then, I think more people talking about how hard it all is and not just posting beautiful happy snippets on social media would help many moms,” says Buckley Friedberg. “It is so hard when it appears that everyone around you is handling everything flawlessly when you are struggling to keep it all together.”
If you’re struggling today, know this mama: You’re not alone. We feel it, too.