A new phenomenon is sweeping through workplaces: quiet quitting. This newly-coined term describes workers who’ve stopped going above and beyond in their daily duties. They’re doing only what they’re paid to do without taking on any extra work or extracurriculars. They’re pushing back against the idea that they must be operating on all cylinders at all times and reclaiming their free time.
And it’s no wonder. With workplace stress levels continuing to rise, and after weathering 2+ years of a pandemic that has turned our lives upside down, workers seem unwilling to continue clocking in at all hours to get the job done. Instead they are setting boundaries and taking their lives back.
The type of stress and burnout experienced by corporate quiet quitters will sound very familiar to another group of individuals: moms. Though not on the payroll, if anyone understands the demands of job that keeps you on call 24/7, it’s those who are getting up before dawn to pack lunches, juggle the family calendar, help with homework, soothe 3 a.m. nightmares, and then do it all again the next day.
Moms Today Are Actually Spending More Time With Their Kids
In 2020, most of us started spending a lot more time with our kids. A lot more. But even before COVID forced us inside, the amount of time moms were spending with their kids was on the rise. One study shows the amount of time mothers spend with their children nearly doubled from 1965 to 2012, rising from 54 minutes per day to 104 minutes. And that’s only time spent on active engagement with children. Add on time spent preparing meals, doing laundry, picking up and dropping off, volunteering at school, planning birthday parties and managing childcare logistics, and the overtime requirements of the job suddenly become clear.
What Would Happen If Moms Did Less?
But what if moms stopped working overtime? If they stopped going above and beyond? What if moms quiet quit?
First, society would surely collapse as laundry piled up, school forms went unreturned, and kids were forced to forage in the refrigerator for their after school snacks.
Or would it?
This is not to discredit the work mothers do or to discount the lack of societal support they receive. It took a global pandemic to lay bare a set of systemic problems around unaffordable (and unavailable) childcare, lack of maternal mental health support, and workplace cultures intrinsically set up to disadvantage mothers.
However, many of us have tried to solve these systemic problems with individual solutions. Which, when added to our already extensive to-do lists, lead us straight to a breaking point.
But what if, in the absence of broader societal solutions, mothers did less? What if we served more chicken nuggets and fewer home-cooked meals, cleaned less, attended fewer soccer games, signed our kids up for fewer activities, and stopped decorating for every single holiday?
What if, in the absence of broader societal solutions, mothers did less?
It’s likely our kids would be just fine. In fact, it’s likely they wouldn’t even notice.
Because we’re the ones who keep raising the bar for ourselves. We’re the ones who’ve decided we must take holiday photos in matching pajamas, or that we need to stay up until midnight to register our child for the one and only summer camp they could ever be happy at. We’re the ones who’ve over-scheduled our kids, and thus ourselves.
And yet, it’s hard to stop. The social and cultural pressures on moms are immense. Formal institutions like the American Association of Pediatrics promote the idea that we should be constantly monitoring and involved with our children, encouraging room sharing until 6 months and breastfeeding beyond 1 year. Recently they even began recommending co-viewing television with our kids, taking away precious time parents often use to catch up on their own lives.
We also live in a society of competitive motherhood, which sometimes begins even before conception. We’re told from the beginning that it’s our responsibility to ensure our kids get into the best schools, onto the right teams, and become the best versions of themselves.
And though all this often comes at the expense of our own mental health, it’s easy to feel that if we let up on the gas pedal for even one moment our kids will fall behind or miss out. So despite our exhaustion we stay in the race, all in the name of making sure our kids are happy.
Except we’re not modeling this happiness. Instead we’re a living example of stress, burnout, and, for many of us, depression and anxiety. Exactly the opposite of what we want for our children.
The bottom line is that motherhood as it’s drawn today isn’t sustainable. Just like in places of paid employment, going and beyond everyday shouldn’t be the norm for moms. Our self-preservation matters, too. And while we shouldn’t have to quiet quit to achieve this, these days that may be exactly what moms need to do.