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.
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
|Involved in kids' lives||58%||37%||4%|
|Level of discipline||24%||54%||21%|