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New study paints surprising picture of modern stay-at-home mom life

Posted June 19

NEW YORK CITY — What exactly does it mean to be a stay-at-home mom in 2016? A new survey set out to find the answer and revealed that moms of today bring multitasking to new heights.

The Redbook.com survey — The Mom Gig — involved 558 women who identify as stay-at-home mothers. The moms were asked to make a detailed, hour-by-hour record of their daily activities, tasks and duties, and answered questions about their responsibilities.

Using that data, author Laura Vanderkam sorted the participants into four groups: the workers, the volunteers, the newbies and the caretakers.

The workers made up the largest group — with 34 percent of the moms falling into the category. These women work an average of 4.5 hours a day, on top of their regular mothering duties. Interestingly enough, two-thirds of all women surveyed reported contributing to their family income in one way or another.

Twenty-five percent reported running a business out of their home.

"I think it is generally positive that there are new ways to work these days," Vanderkam told Today. "It means people can dial down and dial up their workforce involvement without it being a hard choice one way or the other.

The next largest group — the volunteers — spend a significant portion of their time helping out in their children’s classrooms and participating in kid-related activities. Nearly half of the “volunteer” women said they felt they made working moms' lives easier by picking up slack at the schools.

Next up, the newbies. Nineteen percent of women surveyed fell into this group, which is defined as mothers who have children under the age of 2. Of this group, most see the stay-at-home mom gig as temporary — 59 percent reported a desire to return to work at some point.

Finally, the caretaker, who has at least one child with special needs. Moms in this group tend to experience more stress than those in the others — 39 percent report being very or extremely stressed most of the time, compared with 30 percent of moms overall.

But modern motherhood isn’t all stress and fatigue. The survey found that 56 percent of moms are extremely or very happy with their roles, compared with just 2 percent who reported feeling completely unhappy.

The happiest of stay-at-home mothers were those who had at least four children, despite the fact they were the busiest.

"Four children will mellow all but the most stubborn of perfectionists," Vanderkam told Today. "I suspect moms of big families are more likely to take a little clutter in stride and just enjoy their boisterous homes."

For most stay-at-home moms, the day begins early. The survey found that 65 percent woke up before 6 a.m.

When it comes to day-to-day activities, socioeconomic status seemed to make a difference. Moms who were more financially stable reported more exercise, social activities and errand running, while mothers who fell on the opposite end of the financial spectrum spent the majority of their days doing housework.

But it’s not all housework and errands — the respondents reported a broad range of activities, from crafty to quirky.

“Our respondents' lives were incredibly diverse,” Vanderkam wrote in Redbook. “One mom spent the day substitute teaching. Another milked goats and spent five hours building a tool shed … There were a few throwback moments: "Sat down and had a cocktail after getting dinner in oven." One mom reported some intense DIY projects: "Caulked backsplash in kitchen." They breast-fed infants around the clock and changed diapers at 2 a.m.

Seventy-two percent of respondents reported feeling like society didn’t recognize or understand how much they do.

"Many women have skills that would be quite valuable to employers if organizations could get their heads around creating virtual part-time jobs — say, 15-20 hours a week telecommuting,” Vanderkam told Today. “Employers willing to tap into this labor pool would find a lot of unused capacity, and people who would be loyal workers."

Jessica Ivins is a content manager for KSL.com and contributor to the Motherhood Matters section.

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