Poll: Work, Worry and Accomplishment Define Mothering

Motherhood is no easy job: Six in 10 moms worry about it. Half sometimes feel guilty that they're not better at it. Most say they're good but not great at it. Seven in 10 say it's harder now than it was a generation ago.

And then the kids hit their teens, and things get really tough.

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.

And oh, for a little more time: Six in 10 moms with kids under 18 hold down paying jobs, yet traditional social norms persist -- 85 percent still also maintain primary child-care responsibilities in the family. Make that two jobs, then.

Yet there's joy in mothering and deep rewards: Seven in 10 mothers in an ABC News "Good Morning America"/Good Housekeeping poll report an excellent relationship with their children, twice as many as got along that well with their own mothers when they were growing up. Compared with their mothers, most moms today say they're more involved in their kids' lives. And while overindulgence is up, most moms by far also say they're maintaining at least as much discipline as their own mothers did.

Moms' Relationships
  Excellent Good
With their kids today   69%   31%
With their moms when growing up   35%   46%
With their moms now   51%   42%

Another result undermines the myth that working moms have more guilt; instead the survey finds that working mothers -- even those on a career track -- are no more apt than at-home moms to feel guilty about not always being a good enough mother. They're also as confident of their child-rearing skills, and get along with their kids as well.

Lack of time with the kids is far and away the greatest cause of parental guilt among working moms. At-home mothers are more apt to cite other causes, such as discipline problems or a lack of money.

Mothers' Laments
Mothering skills   39% Excellent, 60% Good
Worry about mothering   62% Worry, 38% Don't Worry
Feelings of guilt   52% Some Guilt, 49% No Guilt


One fundamental finding of this national, random-sample survey is that strong relationships carry on across generations. Women who grew up with a strong relationship with their mothers are far more likely to have the same kind of relationship with their kids, indeed it's the strongest single factor in predicting such relationships.

The numbers are striking: Among women who say they had an excellent relationship with their mothers, 91 percent now report an excellent relationship with their own children. In contrast, women whose childhood relationship with their mothers was "good" rather than excellent are 35 points less likely to have the strongest relationship with their kids. It's by no means the sole component of successful mothering -- but there is a clear connection between strong intergenerational mother-child relationships.

Hard Work and Mommy Guilt

All told, 72 percent of mothers think raising kids is harder today than it was when they were children. And it brings agitation: 62 percent sometimes worry about not being as good a mother as they'd like to be, especially younger and less-confident moms, and those with more kids.

Worry extends to guilt for about half of mothers, 52 percent. A strong factor here is the number of kids, presumably because of the divided attention they require. Among mothers with one child, 44 percent sometimes feel guilty about their shortcomings as a mom. Among those with two kids, it's 52 percent; three or more children, 63 percent.

Verbatim answers on what causes mothers guilt show the range of yearnings, conflicts and pressures in child-rearing. "I worry if they are getting the best education possible, and if I know everything that can put them on the right path," said a 46-year-old mother of two, ages 13 and 14, in Idaho. While one mom said she's "too strict," a 33-year-old Californian with four kids has the opposite discipline problem: "You have to be firm and kids think it's a joke. Especially with a 15-year-old male."

"Lack of consistency" causes guilt in one mother; for a working mom with a 12-year-old in Florida, it's "not being home after school"; for a 37-year-old mom in New Jersey, "not doing as many cultural things with my son as I should." For a 31-year-old mother of four in Tennessee, guilt comes from a lack of "spiritual time, not going to church only, but at home." For another, it's that "he's bored, and I don't know what to do."

Some answers are poignant. Guilt for a 30-year-old mother of four in Washington state comes from "seeing your child hurt and there's nothing you can do to help them." For a 52-year-old in California, speaking of her 16-year-old daughter, it was "not seeing her as a separate person soon enough." For a 42-year-old mother of twins in Massachusetts, guilt comes from the desire "that I don't crush their spirit." A 32-year-old Texan with a 12-year-old expressed her guilt in a single word: "Divorce."

All these make other sources of guilt look simpler to deal with, such as this, for a 44-year-old mother of two in Indiana: "Not being a good cook." Quick, call Rachael Ray.

More Pressures

Another pressure on moms is the role of being primary caregivers. As noted, 85 percent say they shoulder the main child-care responsibilities in their household. Even among career women, 76 percent have the main child-care duties; that rises to 93 percent of at-home moms.

A quarter of moms face special pressures: They're single parents. Seventy-six percent are either married or living with a partner, but 14 percent of today's moms are divorced or separated and 9 percent never married. There's a huge racial difference: 83 percent of white moms are married or living with a partner, compared with just half of nonwhite moms.

Single moms rate their parenting skills and relationship with their children about the same as women who are in relationships. But singles have more intense worries: 28 percent of single moms worry "a great deal" about not being as good mothers as they'd like to be, compared with 19 percent of married moms.

Recognizing their challenges may be one source of modesty in mothers. Most say they're good mothers (60 percent) rather than excellent ones (39 percent). "Excellent" self-ratings peak among moms who have fewer worries, no guilt, only one child, and, again, those who had an excellent relationship with their own mothers.


Despite the difficulties -- or maybe fueling them -- today's moms expend a high level of effort. Fifty-eight percent feel they're more involved in their children's lives than their mothers were in theirs, including majorities of working and at-home moms alike.

Compared to Own Mother's Child-Rearing
  More Same Less
Involved in kids' lives 58% 37% 4%
Overindulge kids 53% 37% 9%
Level of discipline 24% 54% 21%

Overindulgence is more of an issue -- 53 percent of moms (particularly working moms) say they do more than their mothers did in terms of spoiling or overindulging their kids. Fewer, though, have moved the bar on discipline: A fifth of today's moms say they go easier on discipline than their own mothers did, but the vast majority -- 78 percent -- say they apply the same level of discipline or more.

The Terrible Teens

For all the effort, a key factor in getting along with the kids is something no one can control: their age. Teens are tough: Among moms with only preteen kids, 76 percent report an excellent relationship with their children. Among those with teenagers, though, far fewer -- 57 percent -- say the relationship is an excellent one.

Maintaining discipline is one issue with teens. Mothers of infants and toddlers are most apt to be more strict than their parents were -- 33 percent say so. But that drops off as the kids age, and by the time they hit their teens it's fallen by half, to 16 percent.

Similarly, mothers of teenagers are the most likely to say being a mom now is harder than it was when they were kids. But some of them, of course, could just be forgetting their own teen years.

The Terrific Toddlers

If teens occupy the more difficult side of the child-raising spectrum, infants and toddlers represent more pure fun. Mothers with kids age 5 and under are much more apt than moms with older children to rate their relationship with their kids as excellent, and much less likely to say being a mom is harder today than it was when they were growing up.

Among moms -- all of whose kids are 5 or under -- 84 percent say the relationship is excellent; among those whose kids are all 6 or older, it's a much lower 64 percent (as noted, bottoming out at 57 percent among those with teens). And while 58 percent of moms with little ones say it's harder now to be a mother, that compares with 76 percent of moms whose kids are all older than 6 (peaking at 81 percent of moms with teens).

Mother Knows Best?

Although most of today's moms see themselves as closer with their kids -- more involved in their lives and more apt to have an excellent relationship -- many hesitate to claim superior skills to their own mothers'. Plenty do -- 40 percent say they're doing a better job raising their kids than their mothers did. But many more, 57 percent, say they're performing about the same. (Hardly any say they're doing a worse job.)

Child-rearing styles inform this view. Among moms who are more strict than their mothers were, 59 percent say they're doing a better child-rearing job overall. And among those who say they're more involved in their kids' lives, similarly, 56 percent say they're doing better overall.

Compared to Your Mother …
  Harder Same Easier
Being a mother today is … 72% 22% 4%

Compared to Your Mother …
  Better Same Worse
Job you're doing as a mom is … 40% 57% 2%

This judgment also is one place where work plays a role. At-home mothers are more apt to say they're doing a better job than their own mothers did; 47 percent say so, slipping to 34 percent of all working moms, and 29 percent of career-track moms. (It's worth noting that work for moms is nothing new: While 61 percent work for pay, as many, 59 percent, say their own mothers worked outside the home when they were growing up.)

Own Moms

All these views feed into moms' relationships with their own mothers, an area in which the word "complex" might work. Just 35 percent of moms say they had an excellent relationship with their own mothers when growing up. It's better now --51 percent say their current relationship with their mother is excellent. But, as noted, many more moms, 69 percent, say they have an excellent relationship with their kids. (What the kids themselves say is for another survey.)

One aspect of that changing relationship is that today's moms are more apt to think of their own mothers as friends than as mothers, 50 percent to 35 percent. That looks to be a healthy thing: Women who had an excellent relationship with their mothers while growing up, and especially those who have an excellent relationship with their mothers now, are most likely to think of them mainly as friends.

Still, as important as it is, a great relationship in childhood is not a prerequisite for a great mother-daughter relationship in later life. Among women who had an excellent relationship with their mother while growing up, 86 percent still have an excellent relationship with their mothers now. Still, among those whose relationship growing up was just "good," 40 percent have improved that to an excellent relationship now -- many fewer to be sure, but still a substantial number.

Gift of Gab

Intergenerational relationships among mothers are, among other things, sufficient to keep plenty of phone companies profitable. Eighty-three percent of moms with kids at home talk with their own mothers at least weekly, including 37 percent who do so once or more a day, and an additional 31 percent who talk with their mothers a few times a week.

What do they talk about? Six in 10 moms turn to their mothers for advice about life in general; 53 percent, for parenting advice. Fewer, 33 percent, ask their mothers for advice about marriage or partnerships; doing so is much more common among younger moms, who may still be working out the kinks.

Advice does flow, unasked, in the other direction: 60 percent say their mothers sometimes give them unsolicited parenting advice. Surprisingly, slightly more call that helpful (46 percent) than call it annoying (38 percent). Younger moms, and those with younger kids, are more apt to see it as helpful; at-home moms are most apt to say it bugs them.


A final result, like some others in this survey, turns conventional wisdom on its head. A minority of mothers, 38 percent, say -- egads! -- they sometimes feel like they've turned into their mother. But the real Mother's Day kicker is this: Among those who do say so, 68 percent say the feeling is a good one.


This ABC News' "Good Morning America"/Good Housekeeping poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 30-Feb. 2, 2006, among a random national sample of 585 mothers with one or more children under 18 at home. The results have a four-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, PA.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

For other ABC News polls, click here.