WASHINGTON -- Mothers today are having such a hard time balancing the demands of family and work that they are looking back wistfully to the traditional "Leave It to Beaver"-type family structure and doubting their own success in raising their children.
In a survey of American women by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 41 percent said they thought that a family in which the father worked and the mother stayed at home was best for raising children. Only 17 percent said it was %J beneficial for children and society to have mothers work outside the home, and 37 percent said it made no difference.
Even among women who work full time, only 41 percent said they were confident that their situation was good for their children. And perhaps surprisingly, college graduates were the most negative about the increase of moms in the workplace.
"This is a strong indictment on the part of mothers these days, and women in general, about the way kids are being raised," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. "Mothers don't even give themselves overwhelmingly good marks."
When asked to compare themselves with their own mothers, most women -- 56 percent -- said they thought they were less capable. Only 11 percent thought they were doing a better job. The vast majority -- 81 percent -- said they thought the job of mothering today was more difficult than it was 20 or 30 years ago.
For all their doubts about working moms -- and about how able they are as mothers -- most women said that in an ideal world, they would prefer to work rather than be stay-at-home mothers. But among those with children under 18, 44 percent said they would choose to work part time rather than full time. Only one in four said that, if given a choice, they would prefer to stay at home.
The survey, released yesterday on the eve of the Mother's Day weekend, was based on interviews with 1,101 adult women, married and single, mothers and nonmothers. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Although women may be looking back fondly to the 1950s version of family life, where dad generally went to work and mom generally stayed at home, they are acknowledging that "the changes in the structure of American family are here to stay," Kohut says.
Mothers who work full time said time pressures were the most difficult problems they faced. When they were interviewed by the Pew Research Center, they cited such difficulties as "dropping him off at his baby sitter's so I could be at work by 6 a.m." and "not being there for everything like school functions and things."
Kohut said the survey reflected "a tremendous amount of conservatism" in women's views about the ideal family structure for raising children.
For instance, only 17 percent of women said they thought that divorced couples who split custody of their children can do a good job of parenting. Similarly, 65 percent were opposed to single women having children, and 56 percent thought it was detrimental to society to have gays and lesbians raising children.
The good news in the poll is that women in general say they are satisfied with their lives, with mothers whose children are grown the most satisfied and single moms the least satisfied.
Among all women, mothers and nonmothers alike, family relationships were cited as most important to their overall happiness and fulfillment. Job and career ranked last among the three items they were asked about, below hobbies.
And as Mother's Day approaches, there's a bit of news that mothers may want to share with their grown daughters: More than eight in 10 women whose mothers are still living said they spoke to their mothers at least once a week.
Nearly half of them -- 45 percent -- said they spoke to their mothers almost every day.
Pub Date: 5/09/97