Opinion: Shrinking families and the state of motherhood — what do moms need?
A mother’s emotional and physical labor of love takes a toll, and working moms in higher numbers struggle to find affordable child care
We’ve all heard the adage, “a mother’s job is never done.” It’s usually meant as a compliment, praising the value and hard work of the women who sometimes seem superhuman in their ability to care for children and home, and in many cases, maintain outside jobs too. But moms aren’t superhuman, and mothers are finding it harder to do the many jobs asked of them. The annual report from Motherly surveyed more than 17,000 women who are balancing family and work to find out just what the “state of motherhood” is in 2022.
First, across the country, 47% of moms are the primary breadwinner. In Utah that number is lower at about 25%. But when you factor in that another 22% of Utah’s moms bring in between 25% to 50% of the household income, we see that the idea of most moms staying at home is not the reality. And despite all the talk about gender equality and housework, women still manage most of the household workload.
In addition to manual tasks like cooking and laundry, there is another realm of running a house that falls to women which is referenced so as “emotional labor” or even “psychic burden.” This involves trips to piano lessons, tracking prescriptions, knowing who needs new socks and making sure there is toilet paper. In fact, moms make 70% of all medical appointments for the entire family. Often when family members offer to help with these tasks they say, “Tell me what we need, and I’ll do it.” They are offering to do the task, but not to take on the mental workload of tracking and maintaining, which for most moms, is a lot more work than just a trip to Costco.
Is it any wonder that many women want to have smaller families?
The Motherly report stated that the desire for another child is down 9% from just last year nationally. In fact, two years ago they discovered that 47% of mothers with one child said they were not planning on another child, and two short years later that percentage rose to 68%. The pandemic has been rough on moms! Even in Utah birth rates are steadily declining. It is imperative that we find ways to support mothers as they support their families.
I cannot help but believe there is a correlation between the lack of safe, affordable child care and the struggle for mothers to balance work and home. Motherly found that lack of child care was the single biggest reason women left a job in 2021. A full third of all respondents said that the cost of child care was a source of constant financial strain, and almost two thirds were dissatisfied with their current child care situation.
This is not just a national concern — it is a top concern for Utah women as well. My own daughter is a nurse and has discovered it is nearly impossible to find quality, affordable and flexible child care in her area that aligns with a nurse’s schedule.
Yes, child care is expensive for families, but did you know that those who provide it often live near the poverty line? We must find ways to support people on both ends of this equation.
Earlier this year, the Utah Women & Leadership Project released a policy white paper to address the complex issue of child care. It not only describes why the child care sector is in “market failure,” but also includes recommendations for public policy changes. Although some work has been done by Utah’s state Legislature, there is much more work to do to support women and families in our state. In addition, companies need to provide help to their employees — women and men — so the economy can continue to thrive.
For some mothers, working is a choice. For others, it’s essential. Either way, women need our support if we want families and communities to grow and flourish. Let’s do more to lighten the load.
Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Karen Haight Huntsman endowed professor of leadership in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.