Being a mom has been around as long as people have…and that’s a long time. It’s a role filled with joy and heartache and worry and laughter and has always, always been a duty filled with hard work. There is plenty in the position of mothering that is the same today as it was for our foremothers.
But there are also unique challenges and changes when it comes to being a mom in this age. While many moms across the world today have safer births, more conveniences, and access to resources that have been unknown in previous generations, there are also modern expectations of women that are uncharted territory for those juggling motherhood, marriage, work, and growth.
Over the next few months, we’ll be taking a look at what has changed (and what has remained the same) in motherhood, fatherhood, and grandparenthood. 58% of people say that family is their top priority. Motherhood has evolved in several significant ways over the past fifty years.
Stay-at-home moms on the rise: 28% of moms are now stay-at-home moms, while 72% of moms with small children are in the workforce. While almost half of moms with small kids were stay-at-home moms in the 1970s, for the last few decades, the percentage of stay-at-home moms dropped to around 17%. The rising number of women staying home with their kids has been on the rise, and those numbers may also include women who are working self-woned businesses from their homes. As the lines between office and home continue to blur in the wake of the pandemic, women are creating new paths for what it means to be present for their kids while also pursuing career goals.
Cognitive labor still primarily on moms: While many couples today aim for closer to a 50:50 split of responsibilities in the home, the reality remains different. And it’s not just about making sure the floor gets mopped, the kids get to karate class, and the permission slips get signed. A recent study from Harvard’s Alison Daminger discussed revealed that today’s moms have four ‘invisible’ areas in which they typically carry the load for a family:
- anticipating needs
- identifying options
- deciding among the options
- monitoring the results
These types of tasks are what Daminger calls ‘cognitive labor,’ and as our homes and schedules become more complex in a world that offers more and more, today’s moms are feeling the weight.
“She is a hard worker, strong and industrious. She knows the value of everything she makes, and works late into the night. She spins her own thread and weaves her own cloth. She is generous to the poor and needy.”
“Any mother could perform the jobs of several air-traffic controllers with ease.”
Women are waiting later to become moms: The latest numbers from January 2023 show that the average age of first-time moms is now 27.3 years of age. Delayed Motherhood: In the past fifty years, there has been a trend of women delaying motherhood until later in life. Women are now pursuing education, careers, and personal goals before starting a family. This shift has resulted in changes in family planning, fertility treatments, and the age at which women become mothers.
Birth rates in the U.S. have risen slightly over the last three years: There were 50,000 more babies born last year than in 2020. However, the overall birth rate in America is still much lower than it has been in the past.
40% of moms today are the primary breadwinners for their families: This shows a huge jump over the last few years and includes both moms who make more than their husbands, couples who have chosen for mom to be at the office while dad is the primary caregiver of the kids, and single moms leading families in which they are the only one making income.
More complex family structures: 12% of moms today are stepmoms of children 18 and younger. And if you include the number of women who are stepmoms to adult children, that number doubles. That means that up to a quarter of moms in the U.S. are not only moms to their own children but also to children in a bigger family structure. A quarter of families today are led by a single parent, and of that percentage, 80% of those single parents are moms. While there has been a long history of mothers traditionally getting primary custody following a divorce (today moms get primary custody about 65% of the time), co-parenting, where divorced or separated parents are equally sharing parenting responsibilities, has jumped. These changes can mean more of a shared responsibility in the day-to-day caring of kids, but it can also show the need for higher level communication and cooperation skills between parents.
Medically advanced ways of becoming a mom: From IVF to surrogacy to other advancements in medical technologies surrounding fertility, women who in the past might not have been able to have children are becoming moms. These technologies also mean that some women are becoming moms at older ages. In the UK, the number of women having babies while over the age of 50 has quadrupled in the last 15 years and medical professionals forecast that those numbers will only continue to rise.
More hands-on parenting with nurturing parenting styles: As more and more women entered the workforce while still having young children at home over the past few decades, parenting skewed toward approaches that streamlined and made parenting as efficient as possible in the wake of long commutes and intense office expectations. Today, with work environments taking on more family-positive approaches and with the advent of remote work technologies, current parenting trends promote attachment and bonding, with a slower pace geared toward communication and listening with children.
“Motherhood is the exquisite inconvenience of being another person’s everything.”
A ways to go in maternity and parental leave resources: Currently, the US is at the bottom of a list of the world’s 40 richest countries for paid maternity leave. There is no national paid leave. The implications of this lack of leave time impact a mom’s physical and emotional health, as well as their baby’s. The same hold true for families built through adoption.
Increased Access to Information and Resources: With the advent of the Internet and social media, mothers now have increased access to information and resources related to parenting, health, and child development. This has led to changes in how mothers educate themselves, seek support, and connect with other mothers, influencing their parenting practices.
As you get ready to celebrate the moms in your life on Mother’s Day, it’s remarkable to see the changes just the last few years have brought to today’s moms. And it’s also powerful to reflect on what has remained the same through the centuries, that nothing matches a mom’s love and care of her children.
“Pay close attention, my child, to your father’s wise words and never forget your mother’s instructions. For their insight will bring you success, adorning you with grace-filled thoughts and giving you reins to guide your decisions.”<
If you’re beginning your own journey to motherhood, be sure and check out the memberships with Altrua HealthShare that share in maternity and adoption costs. There are several memberships that can make the road to motherhood more affordable for you and your family. And if you’re already an Altrua HealthShare Member, speak with a Member Services Representative to find out if your current level of membership includes sharing in maternity and adoption costs. (Please note: sharing in adoption needs is not available in the state of Texas).