Mothers of three children stress more than moms of one or two, while mothers of four or more children actually report lower stress levels, according to an exclusive TODAYMoms.com survey of more than 7,000 U.S. mothers released Monday. Call it the Duggar effect: Once you get a certain critical mass of kids, life seems to get a bit easier.
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most stressed, the average mom in our survey puts herself at 8.5. What's stressing moms out? Plenty, from money worries to balancing the demands of work and home to feeling like her husband is sometimes just another big kid demanding attention. But the big secret of mom stress is that a lot of it comes from within: 75 percent of mothers said they stress more about the pressure they put on themselves to be "perfect" than they do the pressure or judgment they get from other moms.
"You always hear about the mommy wars, but I feel like we're judging ourselves more harshly than anyone else," says Jill Smokler, 35, "Scary Mommy" blogger and author of "Motherhood Comes Naturally (And Other Vicious Lies)." And she should know from stress: She has three kids, and totally agrees that it's the most stressful number.
"Going from one to two was an easy, breezy transition," says Smokler, a Baltimore mom whose children are 5, 7 and 9. "Two to three, everything was turned upside down. I do not feel like I have it together. You only have two hands! Just crossing the street and not being able to physically hold all their hands I find tremendously stressful."
More stress nuggets from the online survey of 7,164 U.S. mothers, conducted the week of April 17 by TODAY.com and Insight Express:
- 46 percent of moms say their husbands/partners cause them more stress than their kids do.
- 72 percent of moms stress about how stressed they are.
- Biggest cause of stress: 60 percent say it's lack of time to do everything that needs to get done.
- 60 percent of moms say raising girls is more stressful than raising boys.
- Nine out of 10 moms stress about staying fit and attractive.
Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist in New York and TODAY contributor, said mom stress is a problem she sees daily in her practice.
"Moms are acutely aware of the fact they do not have the time to take care of their own needs," Taylor said. Forget reading a book, exercising or fun hobbies: Some moms barely have time to shower.
"Before you're a mom, you take that for granted," Taylor said. "When you are a mom you just don't have the time."
Image: 3 kids, via Shutterstock