What’s the problem?

Consider these facts.*

Working and raising kids pretty much sucks in America.

FACT: The work-family conflict is worse in America than any other developed country, including Japan where there is a word, karoshi, that means “death by overwork.”

FACT: While low- and high-income families experience this conflict in different ways, we are all suffering from most family-hostile public policy in the developed world.

FACT: The typical American family worked 11 hours more per week in 2006 than 1979.

FACT: Only the United States lacks paid maternity-leave laws among 30 industrialized democracies.

FACT: Fully 90 percent of American mothers and 95 percent of American fathers report work-family conflict.

And yet, most of us are doing it.

FACT: For the first time in history, half of all U.S. workers are women. [1]

FACT: 70% of American children live in households where all adults are employed.

FACT: About 60% of mothers with children under the age of 3 work. [2]

But we’re suffering, and our careers are suffering.

FACT: Women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to that of men. [3]

FACT: Career and income penalties for “part-time” work are dramatically higher in the U.S. than in other countries.

FACT: Even men don’t like it. 80% of men who work more than 50 hours a week would prefer shorter schedules.

FACT: Only 74% of off-ramped women who want to rejoin the ranks of the employed manage to do so. [4]

So some of us are “opting” out.

FACT: Poor women are leaving the workforce in large part because their work schedules are inflexible or they can’t afford childcare.

FACT: Professional women are leaving because they’re forced to choose between working long hours or being with their children.

But we still need the income. And many of us want to work.

FACT: Low-income families (roughly the bottom third) earn 29% less today than they did in 1979.

FACT: Middle-income families earn 13% less than they did in 1979.

FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they’re expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don’t are often barred from the fast track.

Besides, companies need women.

FACT: Companies with more women make higher profits. [5] Wait, let’s say that again because it’s so astounding. Companies with more women make higher profits.

FACT: Successful women managers are more likely than men to transfer their success to a new company because they’re better at building relationships. [5]

FACT: And when women get pushed out of the workforce, it’s expensive to replace them. For workers making less than $75,000, it costs an estimated 20% of that salary to replace them.

FACT: The cost of replacing professional employees can be a whopping 500% of salary. [5]

FACT: A talent shortage is looming and women account for more than half of the educated workforce. [5]

Men are picking up more of the slack at home, but still aren’t carrying their share.

FACT: Men still tend to less of the housework when they marry, and assume less of the housework after their wives have children. [4]

FACT: Fathers spend about a third to a half the time mothers spend on children’s enrichment activities.

FACT: Children of employed mothers are more likely to feel like they need more time with their fathers than their mothers.

FACT: Men at the top of the org chart are more likely than their colleagues to have a stay-at-home wife.

How do you see the problem? What do you think we need to fix it?

*Unless otherwise indicated, all facts are from a new and most excellent report by Joan C. Williams of the Center for WorkLife Law and Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress called “The Three Faces of Work-family Conflict: The Poor, the Professionals, and the Missing Middle.” Published January 2010.

* * *

[1] Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, “The Shriver Report: A Women’s Nation Changes Everything” October 2009

[2] United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Characteristics of Families in 2008”

[3] Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers of The Wharton School. “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” May 2009.

[4] Shannon Hayes, “Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture” p.36, p. 191, 2010

[5] Claire Shipman & Katty Kay, “Womenomics” 2009

* * *

Update from September 2013

A word about job stress…

Since my book was published this month, I’m hearing from more and more people who struggle with job stress and burnout. It’s not only women or mothers who struggle with this problem, (although we are certainly at high risk given all the crazy demands on our time). Unhealthy work environments seem to be epidemic; they breed unhappy employees, and unhappy employees are a serious problem for business.

According to this recent Gallup report (“State of American Workplace”):

  • 70% of American workers hate their jobs or are mentally checked out.
  • Only 30% are engaged and inspired to work.
  • The No. 1 cause of workplace discontent: “Managers from hell.”
  • The cost: $450-550 billion in lost productivity and higher health care costs.
  • The human cost: A whole lot of unhappiness.

From the report:

When leaders in the United States of America — or any country for that matter — wake up one morning and say collectively, “Let’s get rid of managers from hell, double the number of great managers and engaged employees, and have those managers lead based on what actually matters,” everything will change. The country’s employees will be twice as effective, they’ll create far more customers, companies will grow, spiraling healthcare costs will decrease, and desperately needed GDP will boom like never before.

 

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Jane Ferrier

Looks great, Katrina. I think you’ll get lots of response, once it has been forwarded around, which I will do right now.

Reply

Carolyn

As a mother of 11 week old twin girls these statistics really hit home. How are we supposed to do it all? I am going back to work part time next week and I feel like I won’t have enough time for my children and my job, it is a shame our society is this way.

Reply

Katrina

So sorry to bum you out. It’s a tough transition you’re going through.

There are some great organizations doing important work to address these issues at every level (government, workplace, culture shifts, etc.). Momsrising.org is one of them.

Reply

Lisa Rhode

Hi Katrina–

Ros just sent me the link to your blog and I’m all over it! I know virtually nothing about the world of blogging and have avoided it as yet another way to feed my addiction to the endless time-sucking internet abyss, but your blog is just too good to resist. :-)

For what it’s worth, I have thought about this issue a lot and am struggling with my own version of it– first, as a single mother of young twins (age 5) and second, as someone who loves my career and doesn’t want to give it up entirely, which the “radical homemaker” approach seems to entail…. Having said that, I really should read the book before making that assumption, shouldn’t I?!

Also, while I admire the “radical homemakers,” I fear that it is to some extent a “micro” solution to a “macro” problem, and I’m more interested in policy solutions. Once again, I need to read the book! And of course, like most things, it’s not an either/or situation…. just from a quick glance at momsrising.com, I can see there are others pursuing policy solutions as well. So I’ll add that website to my reading list as well… see what you’ve done!

Well, this was more than I intended to write, but the bottom line is: YOU GO GIRL! You are so dead on and yes, I too believe that this is where some of the deepest social change will come from.

Lisa

P.S. I just left a high-paying professional job in San Francisco that I loved and moved to Ashland, Oregon, because I couldn’t sustain the cost of living there– and by that I mean not only the financial cost of living, but the cost to my health and well-being, and the cost to my children and to being the kind of mother I wanted to be. Just fyi :-)

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Jennifer

Hi – I heard about your blog on Kim Iverson last night. I will be checking it out and looking for inspiration or at least insight into how others cope. I fight myself constently, I must be a good worker, mother, wife, friend, daughter, citizen, play group mommy, social lite, housekeeper…I could probably keep going. The only thing that does get me through are smiles in the morning and at night from my daughter and three time a week I get to workout or go to yoga.

Keep up the articles!

Thanks!
Jennifer

Reply

Katrina

Oh, I’m glad you found the site. I’ll be posting the audio from the radio interview tomorrow morning.

I love that you added “citizen” and “social lite” to your list. I relate, I relate, I relate…

Reply

RandomChick

THANK YOU! I just read your story over at the Huffington Post. You just told MY STORY almost EXACTLY. I’m still on Paxil and trying to get off. I, too, had panic attacks and am trying to work, raise two small children, keep my marriage in tact, pay my mortgage, and make a difference in this world. I CAN do it all! But do I really want to??? I’m still figuring that one out. BUT THANK YOU AGAIN!!!

Reply

Katrina

Thank you! I wish I could post all the emails people have sent describing their own variation of the same story. It’s incredibly validating to know how many people are experiencing the same struggle.

Reply

Leslie

I just found your blog through MomsRising.org, and I think it’s wonderful. I see the problem and feel the weight of it every single day. What I want to know is how do I become part of the solution? I honestly don’t know. But I’m tired of sitting around being angry about it… I’d like to take action (beyond signing online petitions).

Reply

Stevie

Hello Leslie, you just have to know where to look. Solutions are all around us. My team and I specialize in helping moms make a difference in their household, so they will have the balance and time to do what matters most to them.

Reply

Ashley Boyd

Hi Leslie — I work with MomsRising. If you want to email me directly to ashley at momsrising.org, I could suggest some more direct action ways to get involved. So many of us are tired about sitting with the anger and hopelessness too. Take care!

Reply

Amy in Texas

Working and raising kids can’t be made easier by legislation, because the legislation didn’t cause the problem.
When women are forced to raise the children and earn the money that makes for a miserable life a lot of the time.
I raise two kids and log 50+ hours at my job. The father’s pitiful contribution really don’t add up to kind of help for us, just the occasional Disneyland thrill and a sense of loss, alternating.
When American society gave men a pass out of marriage it was the doom of women. Not for “marriage” but for the kids.
Some men do stick around and actually help and see the children, but in my experience (everyone I know, and hundreds my students families over the years) it’s not that often.
It’s admirable that you are advocating for a more “family friendly” workplace, but that’s not the answer to women’s struggle to do it all.
The women shoulder the responsibility and the men go off to do their thing.

Reply

Val

Okay, I am feeling sorry for myself but things ARE hard for women today! Women seem to have so many primary roles!!!
My husband has been trying to find himself with new careers since his previous profession has gone dry — hence, I am the primary bread-winner, primary care-taker of a 2 year old (since my husband is always gone – working hard but not contributing equally to the household expenses) AND the care taker of the house — the place is a mess! My husband seems to be okay with it – I can’t live this way! I truly feel burnt out and it has REALLY affected our marriage – to the point that I have had it and literally want to run away! I am tired and want to simply, remove the turmoil. Sell the big house, try to afford a maid, simplify… But my husband seems to be okay w/ this state of upheaval – while I am tired, so tired… Men don’t get it – I wonder if they are capable of understanding all that we have on our plate?

Reply

Katrina

Great question:

“Men don’t get it – I wonder if they are capable of understanding all that we have on our plate?”

I think it’s impossible for men (or anyone) to “get it” until they try doing it.

Thanks for your comment and hang in there. You’re in great company.

Reply

Rebecca

Well I’m not trying to have it all. I’m just trying to have enough. Enough being a roof over my head, food to eat and a little savings set aside for my 3 big unexpected emergency bills…Cars, kids and canines.

I don’t think I have unattainable expectations for myself as a mother but I’m still stressed out. My expectations for my life and my son’s life are: Not to let my son grow up dirt poor like I did (Which he would if I didn’t work as his father cannot hold down a job for longer than a year). Not because I had a terrible childhood because I didn’t. I had wonderful parents and a roof over my head. But because I see everyday at work the the shocking advantages the people who grew up in more well to do families had over me. These people do not work harder and certainly are not more intelligent than myself but what they did have is a leg up from their financially solid parents. This is what I want for my son. For him to have the opportunities that I didn’t have. I want to stress that I don’t mean to hand him every little thing that his little heart desires. I want to make opportunities available to him.

I work long hours and I am lucky to have a flexible schedule so that I do the bulk of my overtime early (EARLY) in the mornings so that I have my evenings and weekends free for my son. My apartment is generally a wreck. My husband is incapable of truly cleaning it. He might do some laundry one day and vacuum the floors the next but there is always a mess somewhere. I do my best to ignore it and spend one weekend a month cleaning it from top to bottom.

I try to have one day a month that is just for me. Usually it’s just a little ‘me’ shopping but sometimes it’s hanging out with friends. I’ve also recently made an effort to do something extra special once a year that is just for me. Usually something from my bucket list.

So the question is: are my expectations to high?

Reply

Stevie

I Help Working Moms To Re-create Their Health and Financial Future In An Industry with Explosive Growth, So They’ll Have More Free Time and Freedom To Be There For The Kids During The Important Years.

Reply

fogamer

For me as a mother it is also important for me to work to help my husband for our expenses and saving for future, but it’s more important for me to take good care my 2 kids with myself.

Reply

Ozgirl

Hi

I just saw you on Australian TV talking about your blog & book. I feel like I have been through something similar to yourself. Having moved from the UK 5 years ago to Australia, I couldn’t believe how behind some Australian companies are in their attitudes to working mums.

That said, I have a husband who works away every other week – as a consequence, I am primary carer for our son and my career has completely derailed.

Choices…it is all down to choices. Unfortunately, my body & mind eventually told me I couldn’t do it all – diagnosed with stress & anxiety and still on medication for that!

Who knows what the answers are…for me, taking care of myself, working part-time in a lower-demanding job & being there for my son & husband. I no longer have a career and financially, we struggle but that is the CHOICE we have made – because what is the alternative?

Good luck with your blog & book:)

Reply

Jen M

I can’t tell you how relieved I am about this book and all of the comments here.

The new full time for everyone is 60 hours in the office plus extra time from home evenings and weekends. This is what companies expect now, anything less and you are considered lazy and entitled, by your managers and your coworkers. This isn’t sustainable for anyone – our society is ruder and more hostile than ever before – there has to be a link.

I wonder if the charge for flexible hours and work life balance were led by men, whether it would be met by less hostility.

Reply

Angela

I’m glad you’re doing better and that you’ve written a book to help other moms who find themselves in similar situations

But let’s get REAL.

You obviously have no idea how fortunate you are. I would have loved to have a wonderful husband and children who contributed to my nervous break-down. But I wasn’t that lucky.

I divorced a man who abused me, and I never found anyone who wanted to have kids with me. I am 50 now so having kids is out of the question.

At least you HAVE Kids and a loving husband. Stop complaining. You’ll probably sell more books that way.

Reply

Jennifer Friedman

I just started reading the book and see it as my lifeline! I’m a working mom of 2 girls (ages 2 and 7) and the bigger breadwinner. I feel like I’m just inches from my own on-the-way-to-Target breakdown and your book (and now your blog!) are helping me realize I’m not crazy and I do need to figure out some changes. What those changes will be is the big question. Need to keep reading! Thank you for putting it all out there and telling the truth!

Reply

Katrina

Thank you, Jennifer. No, you’re not crazy! Keep reading! :)

Reply

Rebecca

Your site is such a relief to read. I have returned to work after 7 years of being a stay at home Mom. I have been working for 2 years and every day feels like a battle. My children are in school but I still feel completely overwhelmed with the responsibilities of it all. My husband tries to help but I think after all my years of being the only person taking care of the house and spending most of the time with my children it just makes me feel inadequate when he does those things that I used to do. Plus he TOTALLY misses the things like clipping the kids nails. When I read that title I thought you had been eavesdropping in our house it was so spot on to how I feel about the home responsibilites. Thank you so much for this resource, I just hope it can help me find my place in this new situation I am in.

Reply

Anonymous

Everybody’s talking about working mommy burnout – where is the solution? Seriously, I am beginning to think it won’t make a difference to my husband and kids if I’m around or not. I don’t have the health insurance to provide therapy (nor the salary to pay out of pocket) and even if I did, I wouldn’t have the time to go. Yet everyone around me pushes me – work harder! achieve more at work! work out more! do more for the community! I’m also curious to see how many female suicides are working moms.

Reply

Dolly

Howdy! I know this is kinda off topic however , I’d figured I’d
ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest authoring a
blog article or vice-versa? My website discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and
I feel we could greatly benefit from each other. If you’re interested
feel free to send me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you!
Fantastic blog by the way!

Reply

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Remonia

Hey guys….. For what it’s worth I am an Intra Personal Life Coach and I work with Mothers who feels that the are stuck and overwhelmed by life circumstances. I assist them to find more peace, harmony and balance, by assist with find their way back to themselves.
I am a mother of 6 children and a wife of a Councilman … Gessh! I can go on an on.. But, to say the least your story is my story.. I overstand!
My greatest desire is to help as many mother’s/wivies that I can to finding that path to inner bliss..

Reply

Remonia

I live this blog!!!!

Reply

Vanessa

Reading your blog from New Zealand, where we are considered to have socially progressive work environment. But it’s actually blown me away to find that so many other mums suffer the same feelings I do. I got here just by googling “why is being a working mum so hard”. I’m only 23, and have a nearly 2-year-old. I am studying full time towards my Masters and working part-time, and my partner works full time. We want to be able to get a mortgage, and afford fresh and healthy food etc., but I just don’t understand why nobody can afford this unless both parents work. There just isn’t TIME. It’s not good for us, our partners or our kids. I really want to be a lecturer, but only if I can do so mainly from home. The modern world is truly messed up.

Reply

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I have returned to work after 7 years of being a stay at home Mom. I have been working for 2 years and every day feels like a battle. My children are in school but I still feel completely overwhelmed with the responsibilities of it all. My husband tries to help but I think after all my years of being the only person taking care of the house and spending most of the time with my children it just makes me feel inadequate when he does those things that I used to do. Plus he TOTALLY misses the things like clipping the kids nails. When I read that title I thought you had been eavesdropping in our house it was so spot on to how I feel about the home responsibilites. Thank you so much for this resource, I just hope it can help me find my place in this new situation I am in.

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Reply

Lilly

I married in my early 30s to a military man who came from a home whose mother was the primary bread winner and worker. As a woman with my own career aspirations, I spent my 20s climbing the corporate ladder. Hours, no problem. Extra business trip, no problem. Married around age 34, we had two girls now 3 and 4 that are 13 months apart. First and foremost, my husband walked into the marriage knowing I would be the breadwinner. He wanted out of the military after 14 years and he now has a smaller side business that allows our family flexibility around child care. He spent about a year at home with the kids and he went NUTS. We decided to put our kids in a private pre-school. The deal was if his salary covered it, we would do it. Our kids love their school, teachers, and we spend our weekends – – – while burnt out a bit – – – happy as a family. We made a decision as well that weekends were for us versus al other obligations thrown our way that we can say NO to.

As I moved further up the corporate ladder, something did have to give, hours were 50 now 60-70 a week. Trust me, my male peers have stay at home wives. They seem to have more flexibility from management….meaning if they are MIA a few hours, no one cares. There is a hyper focus on women. Two of my rules of thumb, (1) Don’t talk about your children at work to your peers or boss (but if you manage, you know how to be sympathetic and there is where sharing is ok); (2) Call them on it. My boss recently asked in a huge staff meeting – are you ok? He was referring to a series of events for me a (kidney stones, two sick kids, two parents with a stroke within a month of one another). I simply responded – “general rule of thumb – would you ask any man how they were doing in a staff meeting?” Hour HR rep was in the room and burst into laughter (female mom of 2). Our children will crave more of us, always. However at my house, my husband is the nurturer and I am the house General Manager. Following school calendars, schedules, Drs appt, schedule for desperate house clean, do the bills, most often cook Sundays for the week and finally we are sharing the laundry. We recently took it one step further. We hired a live in au pair as my husband’s job started to take off in a great way. Many au pair programs are much cheaper than you’d imagine but she is our saving grace. She takes them to school, picks them up and stays with them if either are sick. We no have family resources in the area to call on, so we gambled and this seemed to work. There are good and bad au pair stories, but we targeted a mature 23 year old who truly has it together. She is a 100% part of the family so you have to be willing to open your home. Our kids draw pictures with the five of us and it does not bother me one bit. Our kids are surrounded by love and encouragement and exciting activities. With help, saving all of our personal burn out has worked over our past 9 months. Again though, hubby’s new salary had to pay for the au pair. I am climbing the ladder and not giving in to guilt, yes I am generally managing all things related to the house – – my husband would spend months not noticing new shoes for growing toddlers – – but that is in my DNA. I own it fully. However we all take a step back, look for signs if our kids are acting out more than the usual, and always take it day by day. Again, I have a partner who encourages me to shoot for the moon. He does have his moments with this. However who’s to say these days what makes up a family and how it is always supposed to work? The Mom’s at our kids school terrified me….so you know what we did, we hosted a cocktail party at our at our home, no children so that we could get to know each other personally. There was no discussion of kids or our jobs, it was plain old let’s hang out. There will always be the, where is that kids Mom? Does she exist? – – even though our au pair and my husband are the face to the school. Don’t give up on your aggregate dream. For now my give ups are going to the gym, losing a touch more hours of sleep, but our marriage is better for how open we all are with issues, concerns on the table…..and our children are our anchor. We are blessed for our childcare situation, but we also chose not to buy the big house, we bought a moderate cozy home. Everything is a trade off. For my corporate suits that I must wear, I now buy them on eBay used for 80% less. Such is life!

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