Here comes the judge

Work It, Mom’s alert Media Watchers found this bit in the midst of a USA Today article that, at first, looked like it was more of the same “working vs. at-home mom” stuff, but turned out to be more:

(T)he second paragraph in the article talks about a new study that found something that we think is quite shocking: There is a widespread belief that today’s parents are not measuring up to the standard that parents set a generation ago, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. More than half of Americans (56%) say that mothers are doing a worse job today than mothers did 20 or 30 years ago, the study found.

The study in question was published by the Pew Research Center a few months ago. Titled “Motherhood Today: Tougher Challenges, Less Success,” here’s a quick summary of the findings:

There is broad agreement among the public that it is harder to be a parent today – especially a mother – than it was in the 1970s or 1980s. Fully 70% of the public says it is more difficult to be a mother today than it was 20 or 30 years ago, while somewhat fewer (60%) say the same about being a father. A national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Feb.16-March 14 among 2,020 Americans, finds a widespread belief that today’s parents are not measuring up to the standard that parents set a generation ago. Mothers are seen as having the more difficult job, but they are also judged more harshly than are fathers. More than half of Americans (56%) say that mothers are doing a worse job today than mothers did 20 or 30 years ago. By comparison, somewhat fewer people (47%) say fathers are doing a worse job than fathers did 20 or 30 years ago.

So while we do get some credit for the fact that job’s become more difficult, we’re not doing it as well? Forgive me, but I’m a little confused here.

Women’s views about how well mothers are doing their job have changed little over the past 10 years. In a 1997 Pew Research Center survey of women, a majority (56%) said that mothers of children under age 18 were doing a worse job as parents than mothers did 20 or 30 years ago; in the current survey, 54% of women express this view.

(emphasis added:)
As was the case 10 years ago, middle-aged women are more critical of today’s moms than are younger women. Fully 66% of women ages 50-64 say today’s mothers are doing a worse job. This compares with just 41% of women younger than 30, 56% of women ages 30-49, and 48% of women ages 65 and older.

Here are a some of the things this survey makes me wonder about:

  • Due to the fact that the last decade or two has seen many more women becoming mothers at older ages than ever before, plenty of women over 50 are still in their “active parenting” years, with school-aged children or teens still living at home. Are they part of that 66%? And if they are, are their own self-critical feelings affecting their judgment, and making it harsher?
  • I’d really like to know exactly what this “better” or “worse” performance perception is based on. Is it the idea that more moms are working, and therefore spending less time with their kids? Working mothers aren’t a new thing – they’ve been pretty common for the last few decades. What about the many mothers who have made a choice not to work, or to work in a way that lets them be with their kids more?
  • Could they be looking at how the kids seem to be turning out, and evaluating the parents based on that? (On that note, some of the criticism is probably justified.) And come to think of it, we are the offspring produced by the parents of a generation ago. Do we think they did a better job than we’re doing with our kids, even accounting for the ways times have changed since then?
  • And really, do we need to be arguing about this in the first place?

I tend to think I’m harder on myself than my toughest critic could be – but maybe I’m wrong. Those self-doubting voices do get some of their material from external sources, if I interpret this correctly; if we feel that we’re being judged on what we’re doing – well, maybe we really are. And that’s part of the problem, not part of the solution. It’s easy to judge. It’s harder to change.

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  1. This seems pretty pointless to me because there have always been and always will be both extraordinary parents and truly awful ones. You can’t say one generation parented better than another, because parents are individuals.

  2. Dewey – No argument here – and so are the kids that result. Generalizations and judgments are easy, but as you say, pointless on an individual level.

  3. pointless I agree and yet as a whole we tend to be fascinated with studying, researching and comparing ways to prove we are better parents than generations before. If we can’t do that, we seem to focus on finding the faults in other parents… It’s a rarity to not find a mom who wouldn’t nit pick an article like this and then find cause to talk to each of her girl friends, in depth about it…
    So as long as we focus on what doesn’t matter in an effort to avoid what does, silly articles like this will continue to find audience…

  4. Misty – I’m giving your observations some more thought – not just in connection with this post, but more broadly – and am brewing a possible post about “what we talk about.” Thanks very much for your insights!

  5. BubandPie – I’m going to have to comb through some of your posts to check out the comments you’re referring to…that’s intriguing.