Trying to be supermom puts working mothers at greater risk for depression, a new study finds.
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In general, working moms have lower depression rates than stay-at-home mothers. But new research found that working mothers who expected that their professional and family lives could be juggled with ease showed more depressive symptoms than working mothers who predicted they would have to let some of their work or parenting responsibilities slide.
Katrina Leupp, a University of Washington sociology graduate student who led the study, analyzed survey responses from a national sample of 1,600 married mothers. The women were participants in a Labor Department longitudinal study, and as young women, they had previously answered work-life balance questions measuring whether they agreed with such statements as "Working wives lead to more juvenile delinquency" and "A woman is happiest if she can stay at home with her children." When the women reached age 40, Leupp measured their levels of depression.
Leupp found that stay-at-home moms had more depression symptoms than their working counterparts, which concurs with previous studies. But among working moms, she found that those with a "supermom" attitude -- who as young adults consistently agreed that women could easily combine work and family responsibilities -- were at a higher risk for depression than those who thought that it would be more challenging.
"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," Leupp said. These moms may be more comfortable making tradeoffs, such as leaving work early to pick up kids, not taking on certain work projects or being less involved in school activities. But women who expected that being a working parent would be a breeze were more likely to feel like they were failing if they didn't live up to that ideal. Most Juggle readers with both children and paying jobs have by now realized they can't do it all. Some colleagues say they've stopped trying to rush home before their infants' early bedtimes. Others have said no to extra work projects or promotions. Still others have forgone trips to the gym or time-consuming beauty rituals like pedicures, highlights or wardrobe updates.
Readers, do you think the reality of working parenthood is harder or easier than you expected? What have you stopped trying to do when you've realized you can't do it all?
Rachel Emma Silverman is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, where this story originally appeared. Write to her here.