The Real Reason Working Moms Are Stressed Out and Sleep-Deprived

This article was originally published at the Washington Examiner.

According to a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women’s work commitments have come at the expense of leisure time — hours spent relaxing, exercising, or sleeping. The report also found that in 2018 employed women worked approximately 7 hours and 20 minutes during the typical workday, compared to men who worked around 7 hours 54 minutes, down from just over eight hours the year before.

What’s the takeaway from writers and pundits?

“That could be seen as a win for women’s increased workplace participation,” writes Karen Gilchrist of CNBC. “However, women’s increased work hours were met by ongoing household obligations, which continue to disproportionately outweigh those of their male counterparts.”

And there it is again: Men are slackers.

This relentless narrative lacks serious credibility. In fact, married women with children are simply experiencing the fallout of trying to raise a family while also trying to have a healthy marriage and home life, not to mention a personal life of some sort, complete with time for self-care and relaxation, both of which are critical for mental health.

Women with children who aren’t married are no better off, since they have no partner at all to help ease the load. Since neither scenario is tenable, the only possible recourse is to blame men.

We just don’t get it: The real enemy is time. There is no way anyone can raise children well and bring home a full-time paycheck — plus cook, keep the house clean, pay the bills, mow the lawn, paint the shutters, fix the leaky faucet, do the dishes, go to Target, do the laundry, pick up the dry cleaning, run to Home Depot, shop for clothes, go to the doctor, return emails, do the grocery shopping, go to the gym, and drive their older kids all over God’s creation.

It’s madness.

Moreover, today’s husbands and fathers are doing more on the home front than they ever have before. Actually, they’re technically doing more than wives and mothers (although we shouldn’t be keeping score). Husbands also fully support their wives’ choice to work outside the home, whether they would prefer this arrangement or not. Like abortion, men are given no say in how their children are raised.

The real reason work-family balance is elusive is not the insensitivity of men but the fact that raising children, babies and toddlers in particular, has always been, and will continue to be, a full-time job. No one, male or female, can successfully perform two full-time jobs at the same time.

This has been true since women first attempted the juggling act. In the 1970s, my mother tried to combine a career as a stockbroker with raising my sister and me. Despite having an ideal setup (a nanny-housekeeper and a job two minutes from home) her balancing act lasted just a few years. She thought it was working well when she had one child, but after the second one came along, everything changed. There was simply no time, energy, or ability to do it all.

Balance was still elusive in 1989, more than 20 years later, when Arlie Hochschild interviewed countless working mothers for her book, The Second Shift. One of these mothers, Ann Myerson, told Hochschild she tried all the strategies to create balance: She kept her children up at night to spend “quality time” with them; she farmed out most of her household duties to her children’s nanny; she left her work, physically and mentally, at the office; and she cut back on spending time with friends. But nothing worked.

I don’t like what’s going on at home. My husband is terrific. I’ve had all the help money could buy. I’ve had a fifteen-minute commute, and it still hasn’t worked out.

So, she quit.

Fourteen years later, in 2003, here’s how yet another woman describes her former life as a working mother in After the Baby: Making Sense of Marriage After Childbirth:

I got the baby ready for daycare, dropped her off, and picked her up each day after work. Then I fixed dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, bathed the baby, put her to bed, and with whatever energy I had left, picked up the debris left around the rest of the house. On weekends, I ran errands, picked up groceries, really cleaned the house, did laundry — and, oh yes, spent ‘quality time’ with the baby. I lost all track of family and friends, dropped all volunteer activities, and gained 10 lbs. Bedtime became my opiate. And, of course, I didn’t feel like making love. I was exhausted.

This is the reality of the brave new world we’ve created in which women are encouraged and expected to bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and create a strong marriage and healthy kids to boot, despite having zero time to take care of herself or to enjoy life at all.

Yeah, that sounded like a great idea.

Suzanne Venker

Suzanne is an author, a coach, and a podcast host committed to helping women let go of cultural beliefs that undermine their happiness in life and in love.