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Defying the Supermom Myth

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A new study suggests that working mothers who have a supermom, “do it all” attitude are at a greater risk for depression than women who expect it will be difficult to raise a family while working outside the home. The research also found further support for working moms – despite work-family conflict, working mothers have better mental health than stay-at-home moms. One could surmise then that working moms who accept the reality that they cannot be perfect in all areas of their lives are less prone to depression.

The study was led by Katrina Leupp, a University of Washington sociology graduate student. Leupp used data from the Department of Labor’s National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and analyzed responses to questions about work-life balance and gender roles from women who were between the ages 14 and 22 in 1987. This data was then compared to depression measures collected from the women at age 40 (from 1998-2006).

I find this supermom-depression link interesting for a few reasons. The research looks at expectations – expecting more than what you can handle, or taking on too much isn’t good for your mental health.  If we posed the same set of questions to today’s generation of young moms, would the results be the same? The role of working mothers was different 30 years ago, even 10 years ago than it is today. We also have more (although not enough) flexibility in the workplace and Dads who spend more time with their children than they did 30 years ago. I would think after seeing our own mothers navigate the workplace, our views have changed as we have gained a better understanding of what is realistic and what is not. It would also be interesting to see what expectations today’s generation of Dads have as well.

It is through experience that people realize what works for them and what is really necessary. This holds true for figuring out how to be a parent, as well as how to juggle work and family, or work and a personal life. Parenting is a good lesson in time management and prioritization. Which is why I identified with this quote from Ellen Galinksy, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, taken from the article Supermoms At Higher Risk For Depression: Study:

[Work-life] "Balance" is a guilt word; it implies you have to have everything on an even keel and that if you give to one side, you take from the other. [Work life] "Fit" on the other hand implies that what works best for me might not be your best solution.

With support, I do think it is possible for moms to accomplish all their personal and professional goals. Work life fit is about having the flexibility to do what works best for you, which may not be what works for your co-worker. Although Leupp’s research did look only at mothers, the idea of work life fit applies to all employees. Deciding what works best for you to be able to successfully meet your work obligations and have a healthy family helps define your own meaning of “supermom.”

Instead of accepting that we must “let things slide” to create this elusive “balance,” why not figure out how we can help support moms, and all working parents, as well as employees who want a life outside the office. A supportive partner or support system at home is a great start. As leaders and managers, we can also provide our employees with greater flexibility in the workplace. This can empower supermoms to be everything they want to be, without risking their health.

Here are some video resources that will inspire ideas for how to establish more flexible practices in the workplace from some of our winning organizations:

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/the_queenofcurves / CC BY-SA 2.0

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jessica McKenzie, MS published on August 30, 2011 8:00 AM.

The Intangibles of Leadership was the previous entry in this blog.

Hypocrisy Reigns! is the next entry in this blog.

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