It’s no secret to me. I was depressed back in the day when I had little kids at home and was pulling long hours at a Silicon Valley software company. The juggle of motherhood and career– the impossibility of “doing it all”– was driving me mad. So I quit. And I found that staying at home with kids was even harder. What’s a smart, educated, career-driven mother to do to keep her wits about her?!
A new study by Katrina Leupp, a University of Washington sociology graduate student, has found that stay-at-home moms have more depression symptoms than their working counterparts. 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.
Leupp 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.