Does an Education Equal Unhappiness for Mothers?

Today’s mothers are more educated than ever before. This is no doubt an advantage for the little ones that we are raising, but it might not be so beneficial for our own well-being as mothers.

A mother’s level of education is known to influence the way that she parents – mothers who are more educated tend to read more to their children, spend more time with their children, and spend more time in particular on developmental child care activities. There a number of potential explanations for this effect – better educated mothers might have greater knowledge of ways to enhance their child’s development and the importance of their own role. And an education may also afford mothers more opportunity to spend time with their children (via better work hours, maternity leave, etc).

But what effect does a mother’s level of education, and the associated parenting style, have on her own well-being as a mother? That was the question asked in a recent study by Gimenez-Nadal and Sevilla. These researchers have presented a unique perspective that has been neglected in previous research in this area. Studies have focused on children – how mothers can enhance the well-being, development, and achievement of their children – without considering the consequences of these actions for mothers.

Gimenez-Nadal and Sevilla found that a higher level of education in mothers equated to lower well-being. Compared to mothers lower in education, highly educated mothers reported lower happiness and meaning and more fatigue when engaging in child-related activities. Importantly, they also reported lower momentary well-being while participating in child-related activities.

Mothers today are under intense pressure to ensure the optimal development of their offspring. From the get-go we are encouraged and directed to engage in activities that promote sensory development, physical development, social skills and self-regulation. And we spend every moment possible on these activities, at the expense of our own individual pursuits and often feeling guilty for taking time to ourselves. It can be incredibly overwhelming and leads to stress, unhappiness, and exhaustion. The research by Gimenez-Nadal and Sevilla highlights that this is especially true for educated mothers.

So what should we do? Recognise that the pressures of motherhood today can be detrimental to well-being and happiness and that it is okay to spend time with your child that doesn’t revolve around developmental activities and also to take time for yourself. A stressed-out and overwhelmed mother is not in anyone’s best interest and is detrimental for children in its own right. It is also important that research, policy, and interventions on mothering and child development consider the impact of recommended parenting styles and behaviours on the mental health and well-being of mothers. There needs to be a balance between what children need and what mothers are able to give.

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