New Research Shows U.S. Moms Are The Most Stressed — And Least Supported

Sad mother and playful children at home
Image via Getty/fizkes

The U.S. is still at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to supporting moms and families

It’s no secret that motherhood is damn stressful. But it shouldn’t be as stressful as it is, especially in a wealthy country like the United States. A sociologist recently completed research of several wealthy western countries and found that the U.S. is sorely lagging behind in how it supports mothers and families — especially when it comes to the work-life balance.

The sociologist, Caitlyn Collins, spent five years studying parenthood in four different western countries. She found that moms in the United States have it the worst.

“Across the countries where I conducted interviews, one desire remained constant among mothers,” she tells Psychology Today. “Women wanted to feel that they were able to combine paid employment and child-rearing in a way that seemed equitable and didn’t disadvantage them at home or at work.”

Collins, author of Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving, says that the United States stands out among other Western Industrialized countries like Sweden, Italy, and Germany. There is a lack of support for working mothers in the U.S. For example, American mothers stand out in their experience of crushing guilt and work-family conflict. Collins says American mothers try to solve this by changing jobs, becoming more efficient by buying the right products, etc.

“Women who are committed to their careers but take too much time away for their family are thought to violate the work devotion schema, while those who avoid or delegate their familial commitments violate the family devotion schema,” Collins says.

In Sweden, mothers and fathers have the most equal share in child-rearing, bread-winning, and parenthood, Collins says. Germany boasts the amplest support in the form of public policy and childcare. Since the U.S. lacks the policy and social support of these European countries (we’re still at the bottom of the barrel in terms of paid leave), moms here are literally drowning in stress because of an ever-present, no-win situation. In both Italy and Germany, mothers find plenty of support to help with the home and childcare in ways that don’t exist in the United States..

“This is a structural problem,” she says. “So it requires structural solutions.”

She’s absolutely right it’s a structural problem. Mothers in the U.S. don’t actually get a maternity leave. Unlike the other 36 countries that allow working mothers to take 52 weeks leave — paid, we’re “lucky” to get a paltry 6-8 week semi-paid disability leave and even “luckier” if we can combine that with the unpaid 12 weeks of FMLA. Thus we’re forced to leave our babies long before either of us is mentally or emotionally ready to. And we’re left to feel guilty about not being present enough at home or at work.

Collins says she desperately wishes American moms realized it’s not our fault, and that we stop blaming ourselves for things that are forced upon us.

“I want American mothers to stop thinking that somehow their conflict is their own fault, and that if they tried a little harder, got a new schedule, woke up a little earlier every morning, using the right planner or the right app, that they could somehow figure out the key to managing their stress,” she says. “That’s just not the case.”