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June 4, 2005
Column #1,240

                        How Are America's Mothers Doing?

     In my four decades as a journalist I've written hundreds of stories about America's families but have never written about what America's mothers feel about their job as mom and how it could be made happier or more productive.

     Such questions had never been asked of mothers directly until "The Motherhood Study" did so, filling that intellectual void beautifully.

     Commissioned by the Mothers' Council which is sponsored by the Institute for American Values (
[email protected]) and the Universities of Minnesota and Connecticut, the study was written by Martha Farrell Erickson and Enola G. Aird. It asked 2,000 mothers of children under 18 some basic questions:

     "Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your life as a mother?" A surprisingly high 97 percent are satisfied, with 81 percent saying they are "very satisfied."

     Similarly, 84 percent rate their "overall sense of well-being" as Excellent or Good. Levels of satisfaction are high across all ages, races or ethnicity, though they increase with income, education and are higher "for married mothers and those with high levels of religious involvement."

     These findings contrast with conventional wisdom which focuses on the stress or pressure mothers are under. These mothers described motherhood as challenging but incredibly rewarding" or "the most demanding but also the best thing in the world."

     Nearly 81 percent said that mothering is the most important thing they do. One woman exclaimed that motherhood "is the most precious job in the world. Sometimes it is overwhelming, but the joy is incredible, when you see what you have done or somebody says what a great job you have done with that young man."

     At the core of mothers' powerful sense of joy is "a new and intense kind of love women experience when they become mothers."  More than 93 percent said the love they feel for their children is "unlike any love they have experienced," and that her care of her children is so unique that "no one else can replace it."

     Many were surprised by the joy of motherhood. One commented, "I just didn't know...that the spectrum was going to widen and there was going to be so much responsibility with so much joy at the same time."

     An unexpected dimension for many moms was how much they learned from their children. One mother who left a law practice to raise her two children said, "(Motherhood) is all-encompassing, fulfilling, an opportunity for ongoing education.  You're constantly learning new things. Continuous improvement. And it's just an opportunity to be a child all over again, and do all the things that you did before that were fun and exciting."

     However, only 48 percent of women felt appreciated as mothers most or all of the time.

     Mothers want more time to spend on personal and family relationships.  Four out of five mothers raising children alone felt that way, but so did 55 percent of married mothers.

     The major competition is work. Some 41 percent of those surveyed work full-time, but only 16 percent of all mothers want to work full-time. While 56 percent do want to work, they would prefer part-time work, or work from home, now enjoyed by only 1 percent of mothers.

     Asked what employers might do to adjust to women's attitudes toward work, Dr. Erickson noted that the Marriott Corporation had a lot of absences and tardiness by women who were cleaning hotel rooms. So Marriott moved to a different form of management, giving teams of workers autonomy to work out their own schedules. Absenteeism and tardiness plummeted.

     An overwhelming 95 percent of mothers wish American culture made it easier to instill positive values in children.  Nine out of ten were critical of the media, believe "money has too much control over our lives" and believe childhood should be a time when children are protected from large parts of the adult world.

     A specific change sought by 86 percent of women were more efforts to "promote healthy marriages." Interestingly, there was little difference on this issue between the 89 percent of married mothers who want more energy invested to create healthy marriages and 79 percent of unwed moms who agree.

     Asked what might be done, mothers called for widespread efforts to teach people how to communicate and to provide counseling for couples who are struggling.

     Pastors and church leaders: are you paying attention to what America's mothers are saying here? They want new steps to strengthen marriage. 

     Mothers: I suggest you take this newspaper clip and hand it to your pastors and elected church leaders and ask that they set up a forum to listen to mothers from your congregation.

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