The Mental-Health Toll of Being a ‘Super Parent’

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Carrie Wendel-Hummell, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Kansas, had some depressing things to say about the current challenges of being a parent in the United States in an address she gave at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting in California. Some of these challenges, revealed during interviews Wendel-Hummell conducted with parents, come down to familiar class concerns: Poor parents "mentioned ongoing struggles to tend to their infant's basic needs in the face of low wages and job insecurity, as well as to secure affordable quality childcare, reliable transportation, and safe housing."

But the challenges extend a bit further up the income ladder:

In terms of middle-class parents, Wendel-Hummell said these people tend to put too much pressure on themselves to be perfect mothers and fathers.

"Middle-class mothers often try to do everything to balance work and home life, and fathers are increasingly attempting to do the same," she said. "This pressure can exacerbate mental health conditions. If everything is not perfect, they feel like failures — and mothers tend to internalize that guilt."

Fathers in her study often suffered stress from working in places that did not have family friendly leave policies and from generally lacking resources to prepare them for fatherhood, Wendel-Hummell said.

Most people also tend to focus on the mother and baby.

"Nobody is asking about the father and how he's doing," she said. "People typically focus on the mom and the infant, so not only is it more difficult for men to express their emotions, nobody is opening up that window for them either."

Wendel-Hummell believes we need to recognize the prevalence of these additional perinatal mental health conditions and, in addition, find ways to screen for them.

"We really only have a screening procedure for depression," she said. "There should be improved screening, and it should be done in the later stages of women's pregnancy and throughout that first year after the baby is born, for both mothers and fathers."

It's almost as though when you tell parents that they need to be able to perfectly juggle work and child-rearing, but don't give them the assistance basically every other rich developed country does, this leads to mental-health issues. Almost.