Opinion | Pandemic Moms: Long Days, Short Fuses

To the Editor:

Re “Why So Many Mothers Feel Like Failures,” by Jennifer Senior (column, Feb. 25):

If American mothers are stressed and hot-tempered, it’s because our society has failed them — and set them up to fail.

In the best of times, we neglect mothers’ needs. In most countries, women automatically get paid maternity leave from their work. In Western European countries, they also have access to affordable child care. In the United States, they are guaranteed neither.

The pandemic has made an already untenable situation worse. Many mothers are working full time and doing a disproportionate amount of the housework, while also supervising their children’s education. As a result, after children head to bed, they’re logging back onto their computers to complete their workday. Without child care, they haven’t had a day off in almost a year.

It is neither surprising, nor a sign of a character defect, that they are losing their tempers. It is a completely understandable response to a society that expects them to give everything and ask for nothing.

Mothers do not need more advice on how to manage their anger. They need to be funneling their anger at the institutions that have so thoroughly failed them. And we should be asking ourselves what we can do to support them. We need to prioritize safely reopening schools over bars and restaurants. Congress needs to fund new sources of paid leave so that parents, fathers and mothers, can perform the essential social function of raising children.

American mothers are angry for good reason, and we should be angry on their behalf.

Marie-Amelie George
Meghan Boone
Jane Aiken
Winston-Salem, N.C.
The writers are professors at Wake Forest Law School.

To the Editor:

Ellen Galinsky, the president of the Families and Work Institute, told Jennifer Senior that parents and children seldom view situations the same way. I discovered exactly that when I spoke with each of my children, now both in their 30s, about what I felt guilty about during their childhoods and teenage years.

To each incident that I mentioned, they invariably responded, “I don’t remember that.” They then told me about the times they thought I hadn’t been exactly “the ideal mother.” I didn’t remember any of those incidents.

My children both have graduate degrees, good jobs and happy marriages. We see each other at least once a week, and I think they would agree that we have a close and warm relationship. So to the mothers who are now raising their children, I would say: “Don’t sweat it. Do the best you can.” Your children’s happy adult lives will be good enough evidence that you did just fine.

Phyllis Bengal
Whitehouse Station, N.J.

To the Editor:

The pandemic has surely intensified the anger and guilt that parenting can sometimes bring out in all of us. But mothers aren’t the only ones blaming themselves. As a teacher for over four decades and the mother of an adult daughter, I have felt the same emotional tug of war in the workplace as I felt as a parent.

In both teaching and parenting, there are days when you are torn between “I can’t believe, after all the work I do and the sacrifices I make, this is what I get in return,” and, in the other direction, “My kid (or my students) deserved so much better than what I gave them today — I know I’ve fallen desperately short in meeting their needs.”

It’s an endless struggle, but I rely always on the simple advice a mentor gave me early in my career: Just do the best you can, every day. And I suspect that Jennifer Senior is right: We are harder on ourselves than we need to be.

Cathy Bernard
New York

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