Gallup to the Mommy Wars

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To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “Well, there they go again.” Gallup reignited the “mommy wars” after releasing a new survey purporting that stay-at-home moms (SAHM) are worse off emotionally than their counterparts who work.

Just when we thought it was safe to stay home, a new survey predicts disaster for women contemplating taking a break from the rat race to instead nurture their rug rats. Gallup normally does better work than this cheap effort to gain media attention.

The survey manipulates results by over-generalizing the questions that were asked about how respondents felt “yesterday.” They asked women if they were happy, depressed, thriving, stressed, etc., “yesterday.” And this is Gallup’s fundamental flub; the survey focuses on the past, not the present.

At the beginning of the Gallup article, it says respondents were asked how they felt “yesterday,” but with the question on depression, it is not clear if the respondents felt depressed “yesterday” or were asked if they were ever treated for depression. Twenty-eight percent of SAMHs said they were depressed, compared to 17 percent of employed moms (EMs). The survey does not specify if any of the SAMHs are new mothers and have post-partum depression.

If you look at the flipside of the numbers, though, it shows that of the SAMHs, 59 percent were not worried, 74 percent were not sad, 50 percent were not stressed, 81 percent were not angry, and 72 percent were not depressed “yesterday.” Those numbers seem to reflect a pretty “happy” group.

Now considering that a stay-at-home moms’ workday lasts 24 hours instead of only eight, it’s no wonder we get this headline, “Stay-at-Home Moms Report More Depression, Sadness, Anger.” I can tell you, as a woman that has worked both in and out of the home, that it would sure make me happier to answer to one big boss for a few hours than multiple little bosses all day and night.

So why weren’t SAHMs asked if they are happy with their decision overall instead of a perception of their choice based on “yesterday”? Let’s not forget that the fruits of SAHMs’ labor don’t appear instantly and are rarely tangible. There is no special recognition or positive reinforcement from a supervisor for a job well done, no possibility of promotion, and definitely zero in overtime pay for a SAHM. Instead, her rewards come in the form of Sippy-cup spills, priceless finger paintings, and precious moments with her kids in pursuit of graduations, weddings, and successful citizens in society.

The second part of Gallup’s survey tries to promote the idea that SAHMs are unhappy with their choice, as evidenced by the aforementioned headline. The survey focused on the negative emotions experienced by SAHMs and employed moms (EM): 41 percent of SAHMs felt worried “yesterday” compared to 34 percent of EMs; 26 percent felt sadness compared to 16 percent for EMs; 19 percent of SAMHs and 14 percent of EMs felt anger, and stress levels were about even at 50 percent for SAMHs and 48 percent for EMs.

It’s important to note that the SAHMs with less positive emotional responses are those with household incomes less than $36,000. Forty-seven percent of low-income SAHMs are worried compared to 39 percent of low income EMs; 54 are stressed compared to 49 percent of EMs; 46 percent of SAHMs are thriving compared to 50 percent of EMs; 51 percent of SAHMs are struggling compared to 47 of EMs, and four percent of SAHMs are suffering compared to three percent of low income EMs.

Perhaps low income SAHMs are more worried and stressed because they are single mothers. The Gallup survey does not give information on how many of the women surveyed are married. If they did, would there be a marked difference in the number of married SAHMs with higher well-being scores than single SAHMs?

As Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, Senior Research Fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, frequently states, single motherhood and poverty are linked. “The rate of poverty for children under eighteen and no husband present is nearly 40 percent. No wonder single mothers are under stress. Their poverty rate is five times higher than the rate for married couples. The result is very predictable negative risks for their children having emotional and behavioral problems, which means even more stress for single moms. No wonder so many opt out by having someone else handle the day-to-day coping with the children while the mom escapes to the work place.”

And yet, the low-income mothers still seem happy: 77 percent of SAHMs smiled or laughed a lot compared to 84 percent of EMs; 56 percent of SAHMs learned something interesting compared to 60 percent of EMs; 76 percent of SAHMs experienced enjoyment compared to 81 percent of EMs, and 81 percent of low-income SAHMs experienced happiness compared to 87 percent of low-income EMs.

Stay-at-home moms have the toughest job in the world and carry the responsibility of raising their children right, keeping them healthy, and keeping them safe. That job goes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. There are no sick days, no vacation days, and relatively few breaks and quiet times. If employees were held to the same standard, how do you think they would answer the questions about their well-being? My guess is they would have much lower scores than stay-at-home moms.

The reason women and some men choose to stay home for a season in life has nothing to do with short-term gratification, but instead with life-long and perhaps even eternal outcomes.

One final thought: I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t “work” in some capacity. We’re all in this together. So let’s stop this war on women choosing to stay home with their children and instead focus on the real fiscal and social shambles plaguing our nation.