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March 22, 2007
THE KIDS AREN’T ALL RIGHT: SAME GOES FOR THE MOMS
Two days ago, I called Dr. Suniya Luthar, a professor of clinical and developmental psychology at Columbia University, to ask how high school seniors from privileged backgrounds are holding up under the pressure of college applications. I got a more wide-ranging response than I had bargained for. According to Luthar, the incidence of anxiety, depression and drug abuse among well-heeled suburban kids is as high as it is for their inner city peers. A significant reason is the pressure these kids feel to succeed, Luthar says.
Thanks to my childhood in an affluent New York City suburb, this wasn’t all that shocking to me. But what Luthar said next was. Her newest research indicates the mothers of these children are also struggling. She’s gathered hundreds of responses to a wide-ranging survey that asks questions on topics from marriage to drug abuse. The goal: To assess the level of happiness, satisfaction, and mental health of the privileged moms of these privileged kids. Luthar plans to keep the survey open through the summer. I did it last night and it took me about a half hour.
While the final results aren’t in, the preliminary findings indicate that many mothers don’t feel fulfilled. Interestingly, Luthar found that “happiness was lowest for moms with only a high school degree.” It went up for those with college degrees, but then went down again for those with graduate degrees. “Authenticity—or the degree to which your true inner self corresponds with your outer self—that was by far the lowest among the most educated moms,” Luthar reports. Why? “We do too much.”
Luthar says her results hold true for both working and stay-at-home moms. “If you’re working and you have kids, you have two careers and a lot of stress. On the other hand, if you give up your career to stay home you have lost that stress – but you have also lost the exhilaration of intellectual work well done, the support many of us have from co-workers, and a sense of efficacy in your personal identity.” (In other words, you can’t win.)
What Luthar has found is that the highly educated women responding to her survey are “generally strong women who take it upon themselves to say “I’m going to do this by myself and it’s not OK for me to complain.” What we aren’t so good at, she says (including herself in this group), is admitting to vulnerability, asking for help, and “having our true inner needs recognized and fulfilled.”
“We are the emotional barometers of our families,” she says. “If we are hurting there is no question that kids are going to suffer.” Now that’s putting suburban teen angst into context.
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