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The Unspoken Struggle of Mothers




The complete study is available for review here:

https://www.henrikkleven.com/uploads/3/7/3/1/37310663/kleven-landais-sogaard_nber-w24219_jan2018.pdf


Based on the graph in the study by Kleven, Landais, and Sogaard, support appears to be lacking.


I remember seeing this chart in 2019 for the first time and wondering: Why did I never think of this? Allow me the spoiler. As we all know (but still haven't solved), there is a gap between women’s and men’s salaries, but this colossal gap, you see in the graph after having the first child, is because women stop working. Or they work part-time or start their own business, hoping it will allow them the flexibility needed to manage their family. Left and right, I see highly skilled women abandoning the workforce because they just CAN’T take it any more. And it is not just friends and family; I can also mention the cases of Jacinda Arden, Sheryl Sandberg, Carolyn Everson, and Marne Levine…. These are very Senior Level women who have decided to step down after years of climbing the corporate ladder, as CNBC explains in this article:

https://www.cnbc.com/2023/02/21/why-youtube-ceo-susan-wojcicki-and-other-powerful-women-keep-quitting.html?fbclid=PAAaYg9-kJJoEZck_ogNGII7VOmO4gwW7ktroLj1iNgdlhB8t66i52o1dSEYI


When I was pregnant in 2017, I remember telling my manager I would be back after three months of maternity leave. Then I called him and asked him for two more months. And I called him again to ask for one more, making 6 months of paid maternity leave.


I returned to work, and after six months, I joined another company because I couldn’t get motivated anymore in my old job. And six months later, I quit my new job, stayed home taking care of my beautiful baby girl, and started learning a new profession that would allow me to be closer to her.


First, let me express my shock when I realized I had to choose. Most women from western cultures have been raised and educated to be independent working women, myself included. I had been earning my own money and building myself a career in Tech, and suddenly…


Suddenly I felt deceived. The responsibility for my feelings is all mine, but if this article can help women know how they can potentially feel once they have their babies, allow me to do so. Many women return to work, leaving their babies home, feeling great. Many women go back to work because they have no other choice. And many quit their job: 15% in the UK, or 43% in the US, where maternity leave is not mandatory.


https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/familiesandthelabourmarketengland/2021


Paid maternity leave has proved to have three long-term benefits: Less anxiety in pregnant women and new moms because they know they can return to their jobs. Second, women who take longer than 12 weeks of maternity leave report fewer depressive symptoms, a reduction in severe depression and improvement in their overall mental health. Third, there is a significant improvement in children’s emotional and cognitive development.


http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2015/images/10/28/15-061_text.pdf


Despite numerous reports extolling its benefits, many countries still fail to provide adequate maternity leave.



I bet we will have to pay for mental healthcare for these children what we don't pay for maternity leave. Maya Rosin, from the Department of Economics at Columbia University, found out that:


Maternal return to work within the first 12 weeks of her child's life is associated with reduced breastfeeding and immunizations and increased behaviour problems in early childhood (Berger et al., 2005)... maternal work in the first year of life is associated with decreases in reading and math test scores at ages 3–11 (Baum, 2003)...


A common side effect of early maternal employment is an increase in non-parental care for the child. Studies on the effects of non-parental childcare show mixed results for child outcomes. Full-day publicly provided childcare in Quebec has been shown to have substantial adverse effects on children's vocabulary scores at age 5, and motor and social development skills, emotional disorders, aggression, and overall health at ages 2–3 (Lefebvre et al., 2006; Baker et al., 2008).8 For children below age 1 in the U.S., entry to non-parental care can have detrimental effects on cognitive and behavioral outcomes (Loeb et al., 2007).


Full article here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3698961/



PART 2


Are women and men prepared for the challenges and responsibilities that come with being a parent?


In my humble opinion, we are not doing a great job preparing our young parents-to-be, and we are doing even worse for working moms.


If I had the opportunity to talk to young women, I would tell them the dream we were told, that women can hold senior positions and be moms simultaneously, is true, but it may have a toll. I’d like to say to them that they may see themselves in the dilemma of having to choose (if they can choose. Some won’t have this luxury). And that, unfortunately, if they decide to quit, they may be part of that colossal gap. And the more children they have, the more significant the gap will be. Check the below graph.




I also would advise these young women that although their partners will not consciously view child-rearing as primarily the mother’s responsibility, moms are more likely to pick the children up from school, take them to the Dr and stay home with them. They may also witness their partner getting a promotion, and as dads get more stressed out, moms can find themselves solo-parenting their children too often. I’d tell this young parents-to-be that it's essential to have open and honest conversations when planning to have babies about sharing parenting responsibilities and setting realistic expectations to avoid burnout and resentment.


Note that the graph below is from 2013, and I hope that over the last 10 years, there have been changes to the data depicted





We need to warn the parents-to-be of the current situation, as this affects not just women but entire families. A study done by Professor Susan Harkness at the University of Bristol in 2018 found that in the UK:


Mothers who leave employment are three times more likely to return to a lower-paid or lower-responsibility role than those who do not take a break.

For new mothers – but not fathers – staying with the same employer is associated with a lower risk of downward occupational mobility and lower chances of progression.


Bearing children affects the well-being of fathers too. Paternal postpartum depression is prevalent in 4–25% of new fathers during the first 12 months after birth (Stadtlander L. Paternal postpartum depression. Int J Childbirth Educ. 2015;30(2):11–3.). If this is related to the pressure of bringing the bread home or if it is due to a history of depression, anxiety or trauma, we don’t know. But it is pretty prevalent that as a society, we need to support parents-to-be and new parents, better than we do.


The studies around the topic of the pay gap between women and men suggest that women suffer from peer and or family pressure to stay at home, but in my opinion, in western countries, there is a tendency to urge women back to work because: “mom, the baby doesn't need you”. I feel there is this increasing tendency to make the baby grow alone, although that goes against all maternal instincts.



PART 3


Are mothers leaving the workforce because motherhood is simply not compatible with how we work in these times? Are mothers paying the toll for the prevalent work environment and ethics?


My most significant learning in these last five years is that children need it slow. And we go far too fast. Children need it slow, and if we work and live at this super high pace, we are doing no favor to our children or ourselves. Our burnout rates are too high, we cannot follow this pace, but we ask our children to do so. We rush them from one place to another to keep up with the demands of those so-called great places to work.


What I think we do know is that we need to address the well-being of mothers and fathers so that they can raise healthy, emotionally stable children that will become the adults that will thrive in the future. And addressing this well-being means respecting the needs of the babies and children, mothers and fathers.


According to a research by the World Health Organization: Globally, one in seven 10-19-year-olds experiences a mental disorder, accounting for 13% of the global disease burden in this age group. Depression, anxiety and behavioural disorders are among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds.

WHO states that the consequences of failing to address adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.



PART 4

My conclusion:


  • Parents may lack awareness of the complexities and challenges involved in raising children.

  • Mothers may desire to exit the workforce after having children but may not feel prepared for the significant transition. Additionally, we risk losing valuable leadership, skills, and knowledge as a society.

  • Mothers may be compelled to leave their jobs due to a lack of entitlement to adequate maternity leave or a short duration of available leave. Numerous studies have shown that paid maternity leave can alleviate stress for women during pregnancy and post-birth, and the ability for a mother to be present with their children has been linked to numerous positive outcomes for the children.

  • Mothers who choose to continue working may experience reduced salaries and reduced opportunities for promotion, while also facing the additional stress of balancing two full-time responsibilities.

  • Fathers are likely to continue working, potentially receiving promotions and salary increases, thereby widening the pay gap between mothers and fathers. This increased work demand may result in fathers becoming increasingly distanced from their families.

  • When both caregivers are employed, they may be hurriedly attending to the demands of contemporary work culture, which can adversely impact the physical and mental well-being of babies and children, fathers and mothers.


PART5


I have compiled a list of inquiries that have come to me for which I currently lack clear solutions:

  • What are the implications for our society when highly skilled women choose to stay out of the workforce for periods ranging from 2 to 10 years?

  • Are these women prepared, both mentally and emotionally, to stay at home with their babies/children and handle the significant emotional and mental demands that come with it, stretching them in ways they may not have foreseen?

  • Are these women prepared to forgo the intellectual challenges and stimulation that come with being part of a company or workplace?

  • Do we acknowledge and accept the stress and challenges that come with raising children?

  • What are the potential mental and emotional consequences of voluntarily resigning from a well-paid and prestigious position?

  • Parents may find themselves attempting to adopt a new parenting style, unknown to them, without adequate guidance or understanding. How can we offer support and guidance?

  • When parents experience feelings of inadequacy or failure in their parenting efforts, it can lead to intense guilt and self-doubt. What measures can be put in place to provide support and resources for parents struggling with the challenges of raising children?

  • How can we support both mothers and fathers both mothers and fathers who are experiencing postpartum depression?

  • How can we slow down and have more time for ourselves and our children?

  • How can we enable women to maintain their earnings after having children, and are there measures that can be implemented to support them in doing so?

  • Should there be a marital law by which the earnings of the family unit should be divided between both parties?

  • How can we help mothers who are looking to restart their careers after taking time off to raise children?

  • How can we help mothers who are interested in starting their own businesses?

  • Shall we enforce equal maternity and paternity leave policies, and how can we work towards creating a more equitable system for all caregivers?



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