May 5, 2014

From the Archives

Tired & Stressed, but Satisfied: Moms Juggle Kids, Career & Identity

What is God’s purpose for my life? That’s a hard question for anyone, but it’s particularly tricky for American women today. Whether to lean in or opt out, go to work or work from home, win the bread or care for the kids—or even whether to have kids at all—are the choices women have to make. And it’s not easy. Women’s choices affect their families, faith, career, friendships, personal health and dreams for the future. If that weren’t intimidating enough, they also have to contend with the ongoing “Mommy Wars,” gender expectations in our culture and the church, and the modern cry to “Have it all!” These pressures further complicate a woman’s sense of calling and identity.

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For Barna Group’s FRAMES project, we surveyed American women to find out exactly how they feel about their commitments to family, church, career and community, and about the tensions that seem to pull them in opposite directions. Three-quarters of women (76%) told us they are satisfied with their lives . . . but when we dug deeper, we found a lot going on beneath the surface.

For instance, a majority of women (59%) are dissatisfied with their balance between work and home life. Among moms with children still at home, this rate increases to 62%. Eight in 10 moms (80%) feel overwhelmed by stress (compared to 72% among all women), and seven out of 10 (70%) say they do not get enough rest (compared to 58% of all women).

American moms are stressed, tired, overcommitted and not sure how best to navigate work and family. Yet they are even more likely than women who aren’t mothers to report they are satisfied with their lives. What’s going on here?

Priorities and Discontents
No woman has 100 percent of herself to give each day to every arena of her life without becoming dangerously overcommitted. But that doesn’t stop many from trying.

Moms rank family as their number-one priority and report that it’s also their top time commitment. Seven out of 10 say family takes the lion’s share of their time—and no other commitment comes close. The nearest competitor for time is career, with just over two in 10 moms saying they spend most of their hours each week at work. Here’s the biggest disparity between priorities and obligations: moms rank career last on their list of priorities—after family, personal development, church and friendships—but second on their list of time commitments.

While most moms with kids at home say they are satisfied with their family life (61%), for many it’s also the greatest source of stress. For example, 42% of all women are satisfied with the amount of rest they get, but this number drops significantly among moms (30%). Additionally, moms (20%) are nearly twice as likely as women without kids (12%) to become stressed to the point of physical illness.

Then there are struggles to balance their commitments, both at work and at home. More than three out of 10 moms (31%) say they have too many commitments at work (compared to 25% of all women), and 26% feel spread thin at home (compared to 18% among all women).

When we asked women what area of their lives they would most like to improve, the greatest proportion pointed to church. Two in 10 of all women (22%) and one-quarter of moms (24%) would like to be more deeply involved in a faith community.

Compare and Contrast
When moms compare their lives with other women’s, some feel greater levels of dissatisfaction. Mothers with children at home (14%) are twice as likely as those without kids (7%) to view other women’s quality of life as better than their own. Similarly, moms are twice as likely to say their female peers have a better career life (21% compared to 11% of all women) and better financial comfort (22% compared to 10%).

The distorted lens of social media amplifies the temptation to draw comparisons. When practicing Christian women compare themselves to their friends through social media such as Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, they 11 times more likely to say their friends have more status and privilege and 10 times more likely to say others are more creative. They are also more likely to believe others have a better career and a superior ability to accomplish tasks. On the flip side of the comparison coin, practicing Christians are 13 times more likely to say they are better than their friends when it comes to parenting skills; they also feel superior in physical appearance and overall quality of life.

Vocation and Calling
Today’s unique culture environment and unprecedented professional opportunities offer women what appears to be the chance to “have it all.” Yet this chance comes with questions. Women wonder what they should do, what they can do and what they want to do. These are weighty issues, and the church is perfectly poised to help women examine them—and to offer women and men a framework for living meaningful lives through constant cultural change.

Kate Harris, a mother of three and the leader of an organization dedicated to vocation and calling, offers women and the church a vocabulary to explore these important questions. In FRAMES: Wonder Women, she wrestles with what the data shows about American moms, and examines the church’s tradition of vocation and its significance for women today.

Harris writes, “Vocation is often understood in terms of a job or career, but historically it meant much more than that. When we understand its deeper significance, we find a meaningful and consistent framework to help us think about our multiple life commitments.

Vocation is best understood as ‘one’s entire life lived in response to God’s voice.’ This definition, from my friend and colleague Dr. Steven Garber, is the closest I have come to finding a framework big enough to make sense of my life and work. It gives space for the dimensionality of my identity as a daughter, sister, wife, writer, friend, manager and more. It gives account for the physical work of pregnancy and nursing, while never insisting those wearying months be wholly separate from other efforts such as writing an article during naptime, teaching my other children to read or attending a seminar. This understanding of vocation never makes me choose once and for all between the thrill of crafting a new grant program and the simple joy of visiting with a good friend late into the evening. I can live into my vocation in both places—allowing it to inform the work I do and the kind of friend I am.

Such a definition of vocation will ask me to make practical trade-offs. But vocation never asks me to compartmentalize my life into artificial categories of ‘work’ and ‘life,’ or ‘home’ and ‘market.’ Vocation offers the possibility that my life and my faith can be richly and imaginatively stewarded as a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

God cares that I steward the life that is in front of me right now. To wrestle and wrangle or muddle my way through it—whatever it takes—but always to insist that it makes sense, that it holds together. To believe the details of our days really do connect to some bigger purpose God has for our lives.”

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Read more in Wonder Women: Navigating the Challenges of Motherhood, Career, and Identity, and find out how your faith community can support and empower women to live into God’s calling for their lives.

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About the Research
This research is part of Barna Group’s FRAMES project. The project included four separate nationwide studies conducted between May and August 2013. These public opinion studies were conducted using a mix of telephone (including cell phones) and online interviewing among 4,495 adults. The maximum sampling error for any of the four studies is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Generations: Millennials are the generation born between 1984 through 2002; Busters (or Gen-Xers), between 1965 and 1983; Boomers, between 1946 and 1964; and Elders, in 1945 or earlier.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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