Are White, Middle-Class Women The Unhappiest Mothers?

White, middle-class women seem to be the angriest and the most vocal. Here’s my theory of why.

Mother Screaming, overwhelm, overstimulated, overworked, under appreciated Gustavo Fring | Pexels

The title of this story should more accurately read: Are White, Middle-Class, College-Educated, Married, Heterosexual, Cisgender Women the Unhappiest Mothers? But that was kind of a mouthful.

I am a white, middle-class, college-educated, married, heterosexual, cisgender woman who has felt, shall we say, thrown for a loop by the realities of motherhood. It’s the reason I started writing: to interrupt persistent cultural narratives about what it means to be a mother, worker, woman, and wife. When I became a mother, back in 2011, it’s not that no one was talking about motherhood — the Internet was buzzing with mommy hacks and mommy blogs. I even had my short-lived blog on BabyCenter. But even though it took just a few keystrokes to find thousands of creative ways to pair cheese and carbs or to sneak veggies into smoothies, I found very little that spoke to any of the deeper challenges I was grappling with.


When I recently read this Vox article by Rachel Cohen, How Millennials Learned to Dread Motherhood, I felt both vindicated and defensive.

I felt vindicated because the article acknowledges that up until the second decade of this century, there was indeed a dearth of articles, books, shows, or much of anything in our media that didn’t trivialize or romanticize motherhood. This shared sense of dread, something that has emerged more prominently in the last decade, is less likely to apply to older millennials like myself. (I’m either a very young GenXer or a “geriatric millennial,” depending on your source.)


It could be argued that Anne-Marie Slaughter kicked off the conversation with her seminal and unfortunately still highly relevant 2012 story in The AtlanticWhy Women Still Can’t Have it All. Cohen goes on to cite numerous books, shows, articles, and movies released since 2012 that aim to paint a more honest picture.

I felt defensive because the article suggests a potential negative correlation between privilege and maternal satisfaction, calling out college-educated white women, like myself, for being the most vocal about the trials and tribulations of motherhood. Cohen asks: “How to explain why … it is women with the most financial resources, and the highest levels of education, who report the most stress and unhappiness with motherhood?” It’s an interesting question and one that I can’t get out of my head.

It’s always complicated, to ask questions about intersections of race, education, and class — about why one intersection might feel or behave one way and a different intersection feel or behave another. Such questions, of course, lend themselves to broad generalizations that fail to capture the messy spectrum of human experience.

Some of the defensiveness I felt while reading Cohen’s article had to do with the simple fact that I didn’t like being lumped together with a bunch of angry, privileged white women. While I’m quite sure Cohen has never read anything I’ve written, I certainly felt like she was painting me with a broad brush, glossing over my nuances and unique personal experiences.


RELATED: The Motherhood Secret Nobody Likes To Admit

My first reaction was to second-guess myself. Objectively speaking, there are many mothers out there in far more dire straits. I regularly wrestle with gender inequity and outright misogyny, but I’m doing so from a place of relative financial stability. I’m also not grappling with additional layers of racism, homophobia, and/or transphobia. I started asking myself: Do the stories I write represent no more than the whiny rants of another privileged white woman who should be making space for the voices of more marginalized women?

Then I asked myself: Am I unhappier than less privileged moms? Then I asked myself: Am I really unhappy?

My day-to-day life is a flurry of laughter and hugs, tears and eye rolls. There are peaks and valleys of varying heights and depths. There is swirling chaos and occasional order. I experience almost every human emotion between sunrise and sundown, and sometimes even in the dead of night.


There is so much to be grateful for. I’ve devoted multiple stories to the somewhat hackneyed theme of gratitude, writing about my front porch, my small old home, cookies for breakfast, and one of my favorite activities of all time — sleeping. I can glass-half-full motherhood, and for that matter, life, alongside the most diehard optimists. Believe it or not, I’m a fairly optimistic person.

Sometimes I feel unhappy, yes. But honestly, it’s not that I’m unhappy as much as I’m angry.

I’ve struggled mightily with this anger. I don’t always know where to put it. For years, like a good girl, I tamped it down, and let it simmer. Then, when I turned 40 and stopped giving a crap, I opened my mouth and roared. It felt pretty amazing.


What am I angry about? I’m angry that I was promised one future and dealt with another. I’m angry that I feel undervalued and unsupported. I’m angry that our economy extracts my labor but doesn’t take care of me. I’m angry that for years, I was pressured to prioritize my job above all else. I’m angry that for years, I wasn’t paid what I was worth. I’m angry that I had to hand over half my paycheck to another woman to take care of my baby — and that even still, she wasn’t paid what she was worth. I’m angry that my children’s teachers (nearly all women) don’t get paid what they’re worth. I’m angry that I take on a disproportionate amount of labor in my own home and don’t get paid at all.

I think any mother, regardless of her unique intersections of privilege, or lack thereof, can relate to this anger on some level. But it’s also possible that white, middle-class, college-educated, married, heterosexual, cisgender women feel it most acutely.

Let me be clear: I’m not in any way suggesting that motherhood is “harder” for white, middle-class moms. What I am suggesting is that the actual experiences of motherhood and marriage may be more misaligned with our expectations.

RELATED: “Go Easy On Yourself, Mama,” Is White Privilege At Its Peak


Growing up, I was the “smart kid.” I attributed my success in school to my intelligence and drive, which was very much the message that my teachers, and society at large, continually reinforced. I didn’t think much about the myriad ways in which my success was enabled by a financially stable home life, which in turn was enabled by generational wealth and all the privileges that come with being born white and middle class.

My late father-in-law, who was a line cook at a college cafeteria, was fond of saying that the best thing about being a Black man is that the world doesn’t expect crap of you, and you don’t expect crap of the world. He always said it with a wry chuckle, even though we both knew it wasn’t really funny. Beyond not being funny, it’s also tragically true — as a white, middle-class child, I was promised more than he was. I therefore expected more.

Unlike my late father-in-law, I’ve had the privilege of pursuing a career. I’m not working just to get by. A substantial part of my identity is tied up in what it is “I do.” I mean, that’s what all the school was for, right? That’s why I have so much student loan debt, right? I was led to believe that a satisfying career is the pinnacle of self-actualization. I took it for granted that my success in school would translate into success in the working world, in whatever form that took. All I had to do, I believed, was to continue applying my natural intelligence and drive.

Then I had children, and my career flatlined, along with my earning potential, and this pissed me off — even more so because my career-driven male coworkers with children did not take the same hit.


So yeah, maybe as mothers who derive a substantial amount of self-worth from our work (for better or for worse), we feel a more acute sense of loss when the working world no longer deems us worthy. Maybe our expectations around gender equity are more misaligned with persistent realities. Maybe we also feel more empowered to speak up. Maybe we’re given more space to speak up. Maybe we’re more likely to get publishing deals that amplify our voices. Probably it’s all of the above.

RELATED: There Doesn't Need To Be Evidence When A Marginalized Community Talks About Harm Done To Them

In a sense, this is just history repeating itself. In 1963, Betty Friedan — a white, middle-class, college-educated, married, heterosexual, cisgender woman — set off a firestorm with her book, The Feminine Mystique. She is largely credited with sparking the Women’s Liberation Movement, mostly amongst college-educated white women who wanted to seek personal fulfillment outside of the home.



In the 1960s and 70s, these women fought for the right to enter the workforce, but at the end of the day, we gained entry into the same extractive, exploitative system that our lower-income counterparts, disproportionately women of color, had been participating in for years. We are exploited less and paid more, but it’s still barely enough to afford childcare. We enjoy a degree of financial stability, but our earnings are still compromised by our caregiving duties, and our jobs always demand precedence. We can enjoy the autonomy of economic participation, but we’re still participating in an economy that stubbornly refuses to value the care work required to ensure our children’s health and well-being. We have husbands who try to help around the house, but we are still the default parents.


College-educated mothers in the 1960s and ’70s wanted more. College-educated mothers today have more, and it’s too much. Instead of finding personal fulfillment, we’re drowning in to-do lists, gasping under the weight of mental and emotional loads, and frantically juggling in backgrounds and shadows. No matter how much we do, it’s never enough. There is always someone demanding our attention, energy, and time.

Cohen, author of the aforementioned Vox article, argues that when it comes to talking about motherhood, the “crisis frame,” as she puts it, is not working. I understand what she’s getting at. Let’s be careful not to silence mothers who are indeed in crisis, but let’s remember that there are other ways of framing motherhood that deserve our attention, too.

Perhaps we can start by returning to the core reasons we had children in the first place. Granted, it might be difficult to extricate these reasons from the social pressures we felt at the time, but deep down, we had to believe that there is value in raising good humans and that the work of caring for children is meaningful and important.


My goal has never been to incite dread. It’s been, first and foremost, to help other women of my generation (Gen Xers and geriatric millennials alike) feel a little less alone, while also better managing expectations for women of up-and-coming generations. But I don’t only want to be just one more angry voice in a chorus of other college-educated white women.

We can be intentional in how we frame our anger, how we move forward from it, and how we make space for diverse voices and perspectives. Perhaps most importantly, we can avoid the mistakes of our feminist predecessors and advocate for solutions that center on the needs of less privileged caregivers — for instance, the economically disadvantaged single mothers, the mothers of color, the LGBTQ+ mothers, and the childcare providers who enable middle-class parents to pursue their “all-important” careers.

Can’t all of us “have it all?” What is “all,” anyway? For me, it means enjoying the security of financial autonomy, the freedom to pursue work that I find meaningful (in whatever form that takes), the support of a community in which I feel valued and heard, and the time to enjoy the work of caregiving and reap its many rewards. “All” is not all that much to ask for.

RELATED: I Said Moms Can't Have It All — But My Mom Proved Me Wrong


Kerala Taylor is an award-winning writer and co-owner of a worker-owned marketing agency. Her weekly stories are dedicated to interrupting notions of what it means to be a mother, woman, worker, and wife. She writes on Medium and has recently launched a Substack publication Mom, Interrupted.