In her recent book, Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving, sociologist Caitlyn Collins says that the United States is an outlier in its Western Industrialized country peer group when it comes to supporting families and children, and particularly, working mothers.
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Collins is an associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and spent five years studying parenthood in four wealthy western countries. Her work revealed that American mothers stand out for the overwhelming guilt they feel in the work-family conflict tug. The ideals of having the perfect work-family balance create levels of stress for the U.S. working mom and Collins says that there seems to be no resolution for many moms, as their efforts to battle the guilt and conflict often just bring them more stress.
In all the countries she studied, Collins said that women just wanted to feel that they could both rear their children and work for pay in ways that seemed fair and didn't take away from either their home or work environments. She said in an interview with Psychology Today that Sweden led the pack when it came to supporting mothers and families. There, moms and dads seem to have equal approaches and work-loads when it comes to both raising the children and bringing home paychecks, and still, even in Sweden, she found that the 'ideal' of motherhood adds pressure for many women.
In East Berlin, women and men equally have opportunity, they believe, and mothers don't seem to have issues about working outside of the home; polices support the option with both support and childcare but still, many women do not 'aspire' to have careers, Collins found.
In Western Germany and Italy, though, many women feel that child-rearing is what is necessary for the child's best interest and careers and child-rearing are not compatible, though part-time work is a common option. Still, even in those countries, where there may be a stigma about mothers pursuing careers, governmental and communal supports and policies exist for those women who choose to do so.
Not so in the U.S., says Collins, where moms are equally pulled between their devotion to their children and their devotion to their families and feel like taking time or energy for one robs the other. Mothers feel they are to be fully devoted to their children and to their careers, but it's near impossible to do both. More, because fathers are thought to be less nurturing than mothers, they aren't able to (nor often expected to) help decrease the workload.
And because these incompatible ideas of work/family life exist with poor policies and support from communities and governments, mothers in America feel they are in a lose-lose situation--where someone is losing, no matter how hard they try.
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Collins says this is a structural problem, and that we need a collective focus to overhaul America's lack of support for working moms. She sees it in other countries, and sees no reason why it can't be done in the U.S.
Her book features what it's like in other countries and she hopes that it inspires the U.S. to push for better for the whole of mothers, and how we can advocate for policy changes that will make a tremendous difference for women who have too long been held to unrealistic standards.
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