Modern motherhood is a far cry from yesteryear. Just preparing breakfast, for instance, today requires careful planning and dutiful attention to what is best for children. These days, the familiar bowl of breakfast cereal is often paired with organic, soy or even almond milk. Should you prepare “free range” or “natural eggs?” Forget the Colonel or Chicken McNuggets for lunch. Now moms shop for hormone-free, organic, or “cruelty-free” raised chicken breasts.
Preparing a nutritious meal for children is only a tiny part of the responsibilities of the modern mother. Mom’s have lots of choices these days both in and out of the household. Some of these are individual options, others are foisted upon them by the mass media. Fifty years ago there were no real choices or options open to mothers. They stayed at home, took care of the children and that was usually the end of the discussion. The modern mom faces a daily challenge to accomplish things that her mother—or grandmother—never had to consider. Many years ago, most moms didn’t fret over whether or not they were doing their babies long-term harm from using the common pacifier. In reality, they had so much work to do in maintaining a tidy household they were probably just happy that the baby would be quiet. As modern appliances came along, and mothers had more free time, things changed.
Choosing to be a mother
Because the Internet and cable have shown the modern mother all the things she may lack in parenthood, today’s mom has to juggle a myriad of home and outside interests. It may be harder to be a mom these days, and only in recent decades has becoming a parent truly been a choice. For most of history, it was a given for girls: You were a child, you grew up, you got married, you had kids, you became a grandmother, you grew old, you died. Now, having kids is totally optional, even if an unfair social stigma is sometimes attached to those women who may delay or forgo motherhood, or are unable to conceive a child.
Contrast parenting with working. Having a job is not an option—it is a necessity for most women. You may find work boring, frustrating or exhausting, but it is unavoidable. For the modern mom—even for those who feel a moral obligation and strong desire to have a child—parenthood is very much an option. Becoming a mother marks a major—but not inevitable—shift in life, and so the burden of parenthood can sometimes feel awfully heavy. A new mom does not share her experience with everyone in her generation, in the way that teenagers may share the turbulence of adolescence or how octogenarians share the struggles of old age. Deciding to become a mother is now a voluntary move replete with all the ups and downs, good days and bad days, either gleefully anticipated or completely unexpected.
Often judged by social media
The modern mom—by virtue of social media—is surrounded by a proliferation of parenting philosophies, health guidelines, education options and more. Being a mom today doesn’t just mean having a baby and rearing him/her to become a reasonably healthy, literate adult. From the positive pregnancy test onward, modern motherhood means navigating a dizzying array of contradictory advice on just about everything: What to eat and avoid during pregnancy? What painkillers (if any ) to accept during childbirth? Should you breastfeed or not? If so, can you do it in public? What’s best, cloth or disposable diapers? The new, modern mom must endure an excess of opinions about how to potty train their child? What age should the child begin kindergarten? What age do you pass on your religious faith to the child? Should you vaccinate your child? How old until the child can begin a second language? How old should the child be when left alone? How to arrange a playdate? How much TV time…exercise time…reading time…?
The modern mom is judged more than were her mother and grandmother. Today’s Twitter trolls would never let her get away with smoking and drinking during pregnancy which was common among pregnant women in past years. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey a few years ago about the challenges facing the 21st Century mom and found that 70 percent of respondents said it is much more difficult to be a mother today than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. The survey indicated that mothers are having more difficulty balancing parenthood and work. They are sometimes judged more harshly than fathers. More than half of Americans (56 percent), according to the survey, say that mothers are doing a worse job today than mothers did 20 or 30 years ago. According to parents and non-parents who participated in the survey, the biggest challenge in rearing children today is dealing with the outside influence of society. Nearly four in 10 Americans (38 percent) list societal factors when asked in an open-ended format to name the biggest challenge for mothers today. The survey basically revealed that most moms are concerned about the lure of drugs and alcohol, peer pressure and the impact of television and other media on their children.
Less judgment in past generation
In the pre-Internet era, mothers were not as exposed to other people’s pet peeves as much as they are today. There was less judgment and less people making a mother feel insecure about her parenting skills. On Facebook, it is common to see a ton of different people informing the modern mom that feeding her child a processed TV dinner could be tantamount to child abuse. While Dr. Benjamin Spock was once considered the sole expert on parenting, now Google has become mom’s go-to guide for parenting advice. The modern mom must also endure a slew of criticisms foisted upon her such as being accused of “helicopter” parenting, “attachment” parenting or the dreaded “tiger” mom who gets loads of grief for setting strict rules of behavior.
Moms who are part of the LGBT community may face unique challenges outside of the daily rigors of parenthood. According to Gay Parent magazine, lesbian moms frequently have concerns about discrimination and custody arrangements (if the event of divorce proceedings). Also, in some same-sex marriages with children it can be common for extended family members to acknowledge intimate relationships differently from heterosexual relationships, and if children are present in the scenario it can sometimes be difficult for a lesbian mother to explain relationship status to family and friends, and family dynamics to children.
Women’s views about how well mothers are doing their job have changed very little over the past 10 years. The Pew study revealed that middle-aged women are more critical of younger moms rather than vice-versa. Sixty-six percent of women aged 50 to 64 years say today’s mothers are doing a worse job. This compares with just 41 percent of women younger than 30 years, 56 percent of women ages 30 to 49 years, and 48 percent of women ages 65 years and older. The Pew survey also found that religious affiliation also influences views on motherhood. White evangelical Protestants are among the most critical of modern mothering skills. More than two-thirds of White evangelicals (68 percent) say moms are doing a worse job today when compared with mothers 20 to 30 years ago. This compares with 54 percent of White non-evangelical Protestants, 50 percent of White Catholics, and 47 percent of seculars.
More single moms today
Just as older women are more likely to say today’s mothers are doing a worse job, they are also more likely to believe the job has become more difficult. Roughly eight-in-10 of women ages 50 to 64 years (81 percent) said it is harder to be a mother today than it was 20 or 30 years ago. This figure compared with 58 percent of women under age 30, 70 percent of women ages 30 to 49 years, and 73 percent of women ages 65 years and older.
The challenges facing mothers today tend to differ according to the ages of their children. If she has an adult child (18 years and older), the mother is more likely to point to societal factors—particularly drugs and alcohol—as opposed to those mothers with children under age 18. Fully 17 percent of mothers with kids over 18 years said that drugs and alcohol are the biggest challenge in rearing a child. This finding compared with only four percent of mothers with younger children who believed peer pressure was their biggest worry, and even among those with teenagers (13 to 18 years), just five percent of those moms surveyed cited drugs and alcohol as the biggest challenge they face in rearing children.
Most of the information traditionally collected about mothers focuses on a two-parent household. The term “single mother” was traditionally limited to poor women and minorities but that parenting dynamic is rapidly becoming the “norm” in many communities. The prevalence of single motherhood is due, in part, to the growing trend of children born outside marriage which 50 or 60 years ago was virtually unheard of. According the U.S. Census Bureau, about four in 10 children since 2010 were born to an unwed mother. Nearly two-thirds of children are born to mothers under the age of 30. Of all single-parent families in the United States, single mothers make up the majority. The Census Bureau estimates that out of about 12 million single parent families last year, more than 80 percent were headed by single mothers.
The working single mom
Today, one in four children under age 18—about 17.2 million based on Census Bureau data—are being reared without a father. Almost 40 percent of these children live below the poverty line. About 49 percent of single mothers have never been married, 51 percent are divorced, separated or widowed, and half of these women have at least one child. When categorized by race and ethnicity, about two thirds of unmarried mothers are White, one third are Black and one quarter are Latina. Further, one-third of unmarried mothers have a college degree, while one-sixth of these parents have not completed high school.
At any one time, about two-thirds of single mothers are working outside the home which is considered by the Census Bureau as slightly greater than the share of married mothers who are also working outside the home. Because single mothers traditionally don’t earn as much as those who are married, if a single mother is working her earning power lags significantly compared with men’s (about 78 cents on the dollar for the same job), thereby leaving a wage gap of 23 cents. The wage disparities are even greater for single moms of color with African American single mothers earning only 64 cents (for every dollar a man makes for the same job), and Latinas faring at only 56 cents for every dollar a man earns.