The results of an annual survey by the American Psychological Association not only found that women experience more workplace stress than men – but that a lot of that stress can be attributed to stereotypes and perceptions about working mothers. I’m not surprised.
The Wall Street Journal analyzed the findings of the survey and interviewed moms to see what their reactions were:
Many mothers interviewed for our story said job stress was manageable before they began having children, spurring them to perform and achieve. But once babies start to arrive, a shift sometimes occurs in their bosses’ attitudes. Some managers assume, often unconsciously, that new mothers lack job commitment and can’t be counted on in a crunch.
So it’s not necessarily actual job performance, put perception of job performance that often hangs moms out to dry. This makes sense to me. I was bartending for a while after my baby was born, and even in that field I sensed a shift in expectations. No one ever called on me to cover shifts or do any extra work. I think they just assumed that my new role as a mother would prevent me from taking extra work on. And that happened just working behind a bar. I imagine in a corporate job – with more stress and responsibility – the shift in expectations would be even worse.
Trying to overcome these stereotypes can send a woman’s stress level through the roof, undermining her ability to cope. Numerous studies link “stereotype threat,” or believing you are the target of demeaning stereotypes, to reduced psychological well-being and performance.
It is a very hard line to tow – wanting to be perceived as just as efficient as you were before having children – yet having to succumb to extra parental demands. What is a mother to do? Moms are not allowed to regard their parental responsibilities as more important than other responsibilities that don’t involve caring for and keeping another human alive. That’s just not “fair.” And I get that – it’s not fair.
But as a parent or as someone who is in charge of care giving of any kind – emergencies do come up. And they come up more often than they do for those who don’t have someone to care for. Yes, having children is a choice – but it’s a choice that comes with unavoidable pitfalls and obligations. How do you fulfill those without being seen as incompetent or selfish in the workplace?
I don’t have the answer to that question. I just completely understand why women would report feeling more stress in the workplace after they had children.