Working women who have believed they can do it all—the successful career, the clean house, a home-cooked dinner on the table every night--may be more unhappy than working women who assume that they can’t be a super-mom, according to a new study.
The study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, looked at women’s attitudes about work and family when they were post-grads, and then measured their levels of depression when they hit their 40s.
It found that those who as young adults consistently agreed with the notion that women could successfully combine employment and family care—were at a higher risk for depression compared with working moms who felt it would be difficult for women to raise a family while working.
“Employed women who expected that work-life balance was going to be hard are probably more likely to accept that they can’t do it all,” said the study’s author, Katrina Leupp, a graduate student at the University of Washington,
In reality, some things have to slide when you work, especially since women still carry the lion’s share of household responsibilities. According to my own informal Facebook poll, the things that slide are having a clean house, not making dinner every night, missing kids’ soccer games, not being fully present with your kids and exercising (or other ways of taking care of yourself like getting a haircut or buying new clothes).
Those women who feel they somehow should be able to do it all end up being weighed down by guilt.
“If you can accept that you can’t do it all, you have less of a feeling of personal failure,” Leupp said.
One heartening piece of news is that no matter how guilty you feel or how insurmountable your tasks seem, working is good for your mental health. The study found that working moms had lower levels of depression than stay-at-home moms.
“Rather than feeling guilty that you’re spending time at work or that you can’t cook dinner one night, it helps to remember that if you’re happier, your kids will be happier,” Leupp said.
So here’s what working moms should keep in mind:
1. Be willing to let things go, without feeling guilty about it. Who said it was so darn important to have a spotless house anyway? Try to prioritize what is most and least important to you. Also, you can choose to let the house go one week and let dinners go the next.
2. Have realistic expectations of yourself and what is humanly possible to accomplish in a day. Attempting to have perfect dinners, a spotless house and get everyone’s homework done after a long day’s work just adds stress to the household.
3. Get your husband to chip in more than he already does. (I’m not saying men don’t do anything, but studies show women continue to perform the majority of housework and child care even when employed full-time).
Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She blogs about the Affordable Care Act for the WellBeeFile. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.