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Redefining expectations placed on mothers in the United States

Mothers in the United States face the judgments of a culture that hesitates to consider the work of a mother as a legitimate job. There exists a general acknowledgement that the “work of a mother is never done” and yet there remains a crippling double standard faced by women who choose to become mothers. Once a woman has a child, she often becomes defined within that role and judged by the standards associated with “motherhood” in general. Men, in contrast, with or without children, consistently define themselves by profession rather than parenthood. Society does not require men to choose between profession and family. Women must often sacrifice one for the other in order to be considered successful in either. Society should appreciate and accommodate the choice mothers make either to stay at home ore enter the workplace.

Mothers are faced with conflicting definitions of success. A successful mother raises a child capable of contributing to society. This is an abstract and immeasurable task. A successful professional, however, sees the concrete results of her contributions as reflected in salary and standard evaluation. Mothers have no standard but instead must incorporate the constantly changing expectations of society.

In the last few decades, the definition of a “good mother” has shifted. Initially, mothers who left the home to work were criticized for abandoning their responsibilities to their children. Today, it seems that mothers must balance career against motherhood, as though motherhood does not qualify as a true profession. A mother who chooses to stay home is now criticized for neglecting her responsibility to herself and failing to uphold the modern ideas behind female empowerment.

Women who are both mothers and professionals again lose to a professional system that does not fully recognize the demands of motherhood. The double standard continues to manifest itself in the workplace. The disparity between male and female salaries continues to persist despite efforts to equalize compensation. In lieu of an adequate explanation for this discrepancy, the question then becomes, are women preemptively penalized for potential maternity leave?

Compared to other countries, the United States gives low allowances for maternity leave. Policies in Sweden and Norway, for example, allow up to 16 months paid maternity leave with the option to share the time between parents. The United States averages only four months of paid maternity leave in a few select cases. Many companies do not compensate for maternity at all and allow only three months of unpaid leave to new mothers. The Duke Medical Center reported that maternity leave in the United States has actually decreased in recent years.

The professional structure of the United States should support rather than inhibit the inevitable balancing act faced by mothers. Professional women are praised for their commitment and work ethic as it applies to the workplace but are denied support when they apply these characteristics to motherhood.

The professional world does not often support the demands of motherhood; at the same, society does not necessarily support a woman who chooses to stay at home. Despite these obstacles, many women do become successful in both arenas. This, however, should not define success, but should instead exist as an example rather than the definitive model. As much praise should be given to mothers who make it their objective to stay at home. Both avenues are admirable.

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