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5 Cold, Hard Facts About Parenting in the US

Photograph by Twenty20

Feeling tired, overwhelmed and a bit manic has become a staple in my household. My partner and I both work full-time freelance and are raising our son. We share custody of his daughter on weekends.

We also own a home in one of the most expensive cities in the country, Los Angeles. At any given point, something requires our attention. Today, we discovered that the heater in our home is, yet again, not working properly. This past weekend, we celebrated Halloween and took family photos and then realized that, due to an oversight on our part, our bank account was on the verge of being overdrawn.

While things are great, and I wouldn't change any of it, we still often feel exhausted, overscheduled and worried about the future.

Apparently, we are not alone.

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A New York Times article reported that a majority of parents are feeling "stressed, tired and rushed." I think they should put that on a T-shirt, because it would sell out immediately.

So what's going on here? Why does it feel so hard to raise a family in the U.S. these days? Putting the research together, here are five things that are working against us:

1. Work-life balance is unattainable

A new survey by the Pew Research Center of two-parent families found that, while families where both parents work are doing better financially, those families report higher levels of concern with having a work-life balance and they worry about whether or not they are spending enough time with their kids. I know the feeling. Just last week, I had a complete meltdown on the way home from an eye doctor appointment, because I was going to miss my son's bedtime for the third time that week.

Even in households where both parents report to be equally invested in their careers, men in general were better compensated.

The demands of the modern workplace, and the technology developed to meet those demands, means that people are connected all the time. A flexible schedule (admittedly, a luxury for not even a majority of parents) maybe mean time off for appointments or soccer games. But it also means working in the evenings or early mornings. When exactly do we sleep?

Some 70 percent of the families surveyed reported that balancing work and family is hard or very hard. Half of dads who work full time say they don't get enough time with their kids.

If money wasn't an issue, I wonder if families would spend their time differently.

2. Mothers still do much of the planning

That old saying "happy wife, happy life" never made sense to me until I became a mother. It's true: When my stress levels rise, everyone in the house suffers. One of the women in the New York Times article described herself as the "advance" team for her family, meaning she orders diapers, keeps food and medicine stocked and manages the calendar for things like doctors appointments.

In more than half the families who took part in a Pew Survey, the mother coordinates most family activities. Let's be clear: Dads are stepping up more than they ever have, but, if everyone is tired and overwhelmed from a long day at work and from trying to figure out how to pay for childcare, sometimes we moms think it is easier to do it ourselves. Am I right? In fact, 40 percent of moms working full time "say they always feel rushed."

3. College degrees don't guarantee security

While people who went to college make, on average, more money than their peers who didn't, many of them are part of what The Atlantic recently called "America's high-earning poor."

These college grads make enough money to meet their needs but have no savings and are living paycheck to paycheck. Apparently, families making above $55K per year do much better than many other families. The fact that even high-income families cannot save says a lot about how much wages have stagnated and housing costs have sky-rocketed, and how the American middle class is nothing short of mythical.

Many families are one layoff away from losing their home, one illness away from losing their financial security. It is not surprising that, last year, Princeton University released a study concluding that the United States is no longer a democracy but an oligarchy. Indeed, most of us are not able to keep up with the 1 percent.

4. Wage gap persists

In general, women still make less than men in a majority of fields. Latinas like me make about 56 cents to every dollar a white man makes. This was reflected in the Pew Study, which found that, in households where both parents work, the man tended to be the one with the higher salary.

Here's something that isn't said enough about American parents: We are working hard enough, we are trying hard enough. We are not lazier than other generations, we aren't more entitled.

Even in households where both parents report to be equally invested in their careers, men in general were better compensated. The wage gap needs to be addressed in a systematic way if we want to alleviate the burden on families.

5. We are stuck in the past

While a majority of women work full or part time, workplaces, schools, government offices, childcare centers keep hours as if it were the 1950s. Reporter Jessica Gross recently did a piece on NPR that talked about all the ways early childhood education is at odds with households where both parents work. The hours or requests for volunteers assume at least one parent stays home during the day. Moreover, the cost of preschool and daycare is out of reach for many. Gross noted that full-time childcare can cost families up to half of their salaries.

Our government has also not acted as swiftly as it can on issues like parental leave. Lawmakers talk about how great America once was, but they forget that things like college and purchasing a home were much more affordable in the 1950s. Research tells us what families already know: Money is tight, time with our children is scarce and it feels as if we are barely getting by.

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Here's something that isn't said enough about American parents: We are working hard enough, we are trying hard enough. We are not lazier than other generations, we aren't more entitled.

Yes, we look on the bright side often, we count our blessings. But it's not us—it's the system that just doesn't work for families anymore. And something needs to be done about it.

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