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The Price Mothers Pay, Even When They Are Not Buying It: Mental Health Consequences of Idealized Motherhood

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Drawing on previous work on the relationship between intensive mothering ideologies and mental health outcomes, the present study analyzed the relationship between the pressure to be the perfect mother and psychological well-being for modern mothers. Specifically, this study suggests that even women who do not subscribe to these ideologies are at-risk for experiencing increased stress and anxiety, and decreased self-efficacy in the face of the pressure to be perfect and guilt for not living up to high mothering expectations. The sample for this study was recruited using a snowball sampling technique via e-mail and an online survey instrument. The final sample included 283 mothers aged 18–50 mostly from the West (45 %) and Midwest (29 %) regions of the U.S., but also including the South (18 %) and Northeast (8 %). Hierarchical linear regression results indicate that mothers who experience the pressure to be perfect experience lower self-efficacy and higher levels of stress. Mothers who experience guilt for not meeting parenting expectations also experience lower self-efficacy, higher levels of stress and higher levels of anxiety. Contrary to prior research, intensive mothering beliefs were not a significant predictor of poorer mental health. The results from this study indicate that internalizing guilt and the pressure to be the perfect mother are detrimental for mothers regardless of whether or not they subscribe to intensive motherhood ideologies. This study also emphasizes the importance of framing motherhood with a feminist sociological lens to critique the dominant ideologies of motherhood and the detrimental effects on women.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

The authors of the study received IRB approval at their home institution before data collection and analysis.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Correspondence to Angie Henderson.

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Henderson, A., Harmon, S. & Newman, H. The Price Mothers Pay, Even When They Are Not Buying It: Mental Health Consequences of Idealized Motherhood. Sex Roles 74, 512–526 (2016).

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