Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

Trying to Be Supermom Is a Recipe for Depression

Struggling to be a supermom is not only an exercise in futility; it's also a fast track to depression. Research that was heavily discussed in August found that working mothers who think they can perfectly and harmoniously balance work and home life are at greater risk for depression than women who know there's no chance.

Rather than driving yourself crazy trying to excel at cookie baking with the kids and making PowerPoint presentations at the office, a more sensible approach is to acknowledge that some compromise is inevitable. "If you think you can have it all, don't," says Katrina Leupp, a University of Washington sociology graduate student who authored the research and presented it in August at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting. "Maybe knowing that you can almost have it all is the better way."

Leupp analyzed 1,600 working and stay-at-home mothers who had participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which began tracking kids in 1979 when they were between 14 and 22 years old. As young adults, the women were asked to assess their attitudes regarding women's employment by responding to these statements:

•It's much better for everyone concerned if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.
•Women are much happier if they stay at home and take care of their children.
•The employment of wives leads to more juvenile delinquency.

Leupp then cross-referenced their answers with a score of the women's levels of depression when they were 40 and found that working mothers had fewer symptoms of depression than their stay-at-home sisters. The conclusions are not surprising in light of previous studies that have shown that working mothers report better mental health than those who stay at home. But Leupp's study also found that women who rejected the myth of the supermom were less likely to be depressed than those who strove to do it all to perfection.

While both working and staying at home have their own particular stressors, Leupp noted that there is some "positive spillover" from being a working mom: "Your role as a parent makes you a more patient boss, or having time away from your kids makes you a happier parent when you're with them."