Motherhood and Role Strain

Happy_family

I got a great blog post sent to me this past week by my dean. It’s all about the role of motherhood these days here in America. The writer traces the ways it has been overcomplicated and presents contradictory expectations to young women and families. It’s a great read that I highly recommend:

We’ve Overcomplicated Motherhood Because We Don’t Like It

I was thinking about this article today when I overheard a celebrity on a talk show recounting the narrative of her recent courtship, marriage and birth of first child. I can’t remember if it went in that order, you know how it is these days. She said something very much off the cuff that stuck with me. She was talking about her wedding and she said something like , “we’re a modern couple so having a wedding wasn’t important to us.” I wondered what she meant by that.

Since 1960 the percentage of Americans 18 and older who are divorced or have never married has doubled (from 20% to 40%). I’m not sure that being modern means that people don’t want to get married, I think what’s happened is that young adults are afraid of failure. Marriage and all that it represents can seem like a daunting challenge, especially with the failures of their own parents’ relationship and some of the way’s it’s been overcomplicated. In a recent Pew study, 55% of American singles reported that they were not in a relationship and were NOT even looking for a partner. Over half the single population has given up on marriage (or even living together).

All of this brings me back to a concept that my sociology students were trying to learn last week. Role Strain describes the phenomenon of being overwhelmed by the expectations coming at us from a single social position we occupy, like being a mom, a dad or a spouse. Sometimes this “job” is just too much.

  • The expectations become unrealistic. Television, books, friends, and family can pressure us into believing we’ve got to get everything just right.
  • The lack of a support system often makes being a parent and/or spouse even more difficult. As our families become more fragmented we lose connection with an extended family that can provide experience and resources to help ease normal strains.

We experience role strain because we can’t physically, mentally, socially, or spiritually manage some of these expectations. These strains can come and go with each stage of a role but a feeling of strain can also persist with the everyday expectations and solitary nature of many family situations. The Overcomplicated Motherhood blog post details much about these kinds of unrealistic expectations.

It was interesting to read my young college students’ examples of role strain. Many chose parenting or being a spouse. It was discouraging to see the level of fatal and insurmountable difficulty that they imagine for their possible futures.

Americans have built an instant gratification society. we really don’t like to suffer discomfort. We don’t even like to wait too long in the drive-thru line!

No wonder marriage and family are fading. It costs much and our collective character is too weak to bear the burden.

“Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.”   – Donna Ball

About Randy Wilson

Professor of Sociology at Houston Baptist University I read, think and write about religion and culture in the United States. It's very interesting and very complicated but incredibly exciting. For many years I have been trying to figure out how people learn best (my students and myself). The classes I teach are always in a state of experimentation - trying to reorganize around what students bring to the table and where we have to go.

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