Uncovering Some of the Subtle (and not-so-subtle) Dilemmas of Motherhood
One of our journal questions asked for a detailed description of the biggest challenge faced by the household on that particular day. The responses to this question were particularly valuable, because it allowed us to understand not only what the challenges were, but also why a particular issue was so challenging.
Three Dimensions of Everyday Challenges
Challenges of Communicationare the misunderstandings, lack of communication, and/or conflict surrounding an issue. For example, one family had a disagreement about letting their 12-year-old daughter go to a friend’s house. They argued about this in front of her, and Dad took her side against Mom. This was a challenge about boundaries, but the problem wasn't actually whether to let her go—it was how to discuss it appropriately.
Challenges of Decision are the problems associated with actually reaching a resolution and making "the right" decision. For example, whether to allow an 11 year old boy to purchase a certain video game is a challenge of decision. Once the decision is made, the challenge is resolved.
Challenges of Confidence (or lack of confidence) seemed to be the more significant challenges, at least from our moms' perspectives. These challenges arose after a decision had been made and executed, and involved Mom (and sometimes Dad) second-guessing the decision. In many cases, this second-guessing seemed more stressful than actually making the decision. For example, one mother felt guilty when she fell behind in housework. Her challenge (a household management issue) was more about being able to let some chores go than it was about how to accomplish everything (a Challenge of Decision) or feeling like she couldn't ask for help from family members (a Challenge of Communication).
Themes of Everyday Challenges
Of course, these dimensions don't occur in a vacuum—each challenging episode has to be based on some concrete issue. Here are the issues that seemed to come up in day-to-day parenting.
Time pressures—these appeared to be the most prevalent type of challenges, and they centered around 2 issues. First, many times these families simply felt like they were too busy, or had too much to do, and this created the challenge. Second, in many cases it was not the amount of things to be done, but the chaotic nature of the day—there was no plan, or the plan had to be reconstituted on the fly. It was clear that, given two equally busy days, the more structured one was less stressful.
Household management—this was a conglomeration of every-day challenges centered on keeping the house clean, ordered, and running smoothly. It also included logistic challenges of getting everyone to where they needed to be on time.
Child development—these were challenges of "training a child in the way he [or she] should go." Parents were challenged to rise to the occasion for teachable moments, educational opportunities, etc.
Boundaries—the challenges here were based on decisions the parents had to make about what to allow their children to do or not to do. It includes issues appropriate media consumption.
Physical Health/Wellness—these were the basic issues of nutrition, exercise, caring for ill family members, and maintaining the physical safety of the family.
Finances—money challenges of course tend to also become inter-related with some of these other themes.
Family Relationships—these were challenges like dealing with conflict, facilitating constructive interaction, sibling rivalries, etc. These also tend to be inter-related with other themes.
Structuring Free Time—it was clear that the moms felt the need to provide their kids with sufficient activities on open days, such as weekends, spring break, etc. The motivation for this is not clear, though some moms explicitly mentioned their children asking for things to do.
Originally published November 2010