Common Challenges Facing Working Mothers
Mothers today are much more likely to balance the dual demands of the workplace and childrearing. As of 2016, women with children work nearly three times more hours per week than mothers in 1965. Despite the increased presence of mothers in the workplace, there are still cultural challenges that can make it difficult for working women to care for their children sufficiently while pursuing their career goals.
One of the most common obstacles for mothers in the American workforce is the lack of federally-mandated paid parental leave. While the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides some employees with job protection during an extended leave of absence to care for their newborn, this leave is unpaid. Furthermore, the act only applies to businesses with 50 or more employees. This leaves out as much as two-fifths of the United States working population. As a result, those who qualify for FMLA may need to rely on short-term disability benefits, accrued vacation time, or savings to finance their absence from work.
When the mother decides to return to work, there can be difficulties finding affordable childcare. A survey of more than 3,500 parents found that the average cost of childcare in the U.S. equals more than $8,000 per year. The organization Child Care Aware estimates that single-family households may spend more than a third of their monthly income on childcare costs. In families with multiple young children, childcare costs are so high that it makes more sense for one parent to leave the workforce and care for the children full time. Expensive childcare is one of the leading reasons why women are pushed out of the workforce.
Even if childcare is not an issue, working mothers are responsible for a larger share of household and child-rearing duties than working fathers. Although men perform a larger share of chores than they did 40 years ago, the burden placed on working mothers has not decreased. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, even if both parents work outside of the home, mothers spend on average 90 minutes more on household tasks per day, while men enjoy 60 more minutes of free time. As a result, the burden of managing a household while working a full-time job can put immense amounts of pressure and stress on working mothers. Likewise, many workplaces do not offer benefits that appeal to working parents, such as flexible schedules, childcare subsidies or paid leave to care for sick children.
Partners, family, and friends can help working mothers by dividing childcare duties. Grandparents or other loved ones can provide respite childminding so that mothers can have personal time. Taking care of some household chores, such as grocery shopping, cooking, or laundry, can also reduce the stress on mothers. If there is no free support available, there are Instacart or Task Rabbit apps that will delegate chores to other people for a fee. In addition, employers can improve conditions for working parents by offering paid maternity leave and remote work options. Since childrearing can keep women out of the workforce for several years, companies can also establish work reentry programs to provide mothers with the mentorship and support needed to transition back into the workplace.