Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Mommy Shock: Are Daughters Prepared For Motherhood?

July 23, 2007

Motherhood, as we revere it on Mother’s Day, is about steadfast heroism, dedication, hard work and sacrifice. What happens the rest of the year? Life with children is portrayed as limiting, drudgery, stultifying and occasionally jarring and painful. A career choice? Not on the radar.

A recent Pew Survey report states that only 41 percent of those surveyed indicated that children were important to a good marriage, down 24 percent from 1990.

A Rutgers 2006 National Marriage Project report indicates that from 1973-76 the number of children and adolescents living with married parents who rated their marriage as very happy was 51 percent. Between 1997-2002, this percentage dropped to 37 percent. Two trends were noted: there are fewer children living in families with married parents and secondly, married couples were less happy.

Personal story. My wife, Darlene, was a stay-at-home mom who raised seven children and now is a stay-at-home grandmother. She brought in income as a piano teacher and used her prowess as a consumer to help us live as economically as possible. We navigated as well as we could with my income plus her piano income in a two income economy.

Our first five children were daughters. All are college graduates, two with graduate degrees. They all married men with graduate degrees. Four of the five are stay-at-home moms and the fifth is a dermatologist with a two day a week practice, leaving time for her to nurture her four children.

How did they make that decision? I believe it is because they saw and understood what a stay-at-home mom did for them in their lives. They saw fulfillment and happiness in mothering. They saw a happy marriage with cooperation and support between mother and father.

For them, being a stay-at-home mom was always a positive choice for a woman. They experienced it being modeled and felt it personally when their needs were put first. They were actively taught at home and at church the value of motherhood and family life.

They delight in their children, are fascinated by them, take responsibility for their growth and development seriously and embrace motherhood with wholehearted commitment. We are proud of them.

We raised our daughters to pursue education to help prepare them for a life of economic self sufficiency and social independence. We also role modeled marriage, family life and cooperation between a husband and a wife in which love, respect and equality supported individuality in an interdependent relationship.

Mommy shock. The Rutgers National Marriage Project explains how young women of today aren’t prepared for motherhood. They label it "Mommy Shock."

Before motherhood, educated women spend their adult lives very much like educated men. They have absorbing work and personal freedom. Like many men, they identify their self-worth with their on-the-job

performance. They depend on pay-and-promotion recognition that provides a tangible measure of their value as workers. Outside of work, they spend their time in ways that are personally satisfying and intellectually fulfilling. They ‘own’ their time and their life.

Motherhood is an abrupt departure from this pattern. Their time and life are no longer their own. They can’t pick up and go wherever and whenever they want. Everything that once seemed so easy to do on their own now requires advance planning, lining up a babysitter, checking in at home while you are out, and famously, feeling guilty about the time spent away from children and spouse.

Most of all, they lose the kind of recognition and rewards for outstanding performance that they have come to expect in their work lives. No one gives them a bonus or even a pat on the back for sitting up all night with a sick child or playing peek-a-boo and patty-cake with toddlers all day long. There is no performance review for mothering.

Parenting is not an easy road. Meeting needs is qualitative. There are no time limits on when the job is done; it is done when the need is met. Children’s needs are incessant and are frequently manifest at inconvenient times that intrude into adult goals and living.

Children are expensive and detract from material comfort and recreational pursuits. The costs of child rearing mean more debt, smaller retirement savings, and exposure to greater risks and uncertainties. It certainly means the end of fancy cars, a McMansion in the suburbs, and footloose vacations to the Carribean. Some women are afraid that child bearing will cause them to lose their shapely appearance.

To give all that up, you have to understand the joy that comes with having children and family relationships. The majority of today’s children don’t know how wonderful family life can be because they haven’t experienced it. Even if they have, the thrust of their education, the blandishments of material comfort and the glamour of popular culture lessen their desire for children.

To their credit, many women with professional careers and dynamic lives fall in love with their new baby, understand their responsibility and powerful influential role, and find joy in mothering even though their backgrounds may not have prepared them for motherhood. They turn their backs on their professional pursuits and embrace the stay-at-home mom role with enthusiasm.

Others don’t. They juggle daycare, full time careers, marriage and motherhood with varying degrees of satisfaction. They choose to have just one or possibly two children. There is too much personal sacrifice to have it any other way. Mommy shock.