For a long time, working mothers have been worried that they were lacking as parents, that they were not good enough parents, and that they were negatively impacting their children. Unfortunately, much of this belief was perpetuated in the media and in some research. New information has come to light, however, that can reassure women that the answer is no: they are not having a negative impact on their children when they work.
A new study shows that maternal employment does not lower the quality of parenting, nor does it increase parental stress. The study looked at several factors that influence the parent/child relationship, which include: maternal health and mental health, parental stress levels, quality of parenting, and “maternal sensitivity”, which focused on how attentive mothers were to the needs of their children. It also considered all aspects of one’s life: hours worked, job flexibility, depression, stress, etc. They found that mother’s of three month olds who worked full time DID have greater rates of depression, stress (both personal and familial), and poorer physical health than stay at home mothers at the same time.
This is not really so surprising, though, when you think about all of the changes going on within this time period. There are many things happening that make one more vulnerable to their emotions and stress at this time, not the least of which is not enough sleep, the addition of another person to the family, and multiple responsibilities to attend to. Early on, it is difficult to manage it all and feel positively about all of your
The research goes on to find that this imbalance changes when a child reaches 6 months of age. While the depression still persisted for many working mothers (about 3-7% greater rates of depression), there seemed to no longer be any impact on parenting quality. In fact, as children grew, over their first 4.5 years, parental stress was LOWER if mothers worked.
This seems counterintuitive, no? Not really. Over this 4-5 year period, mothers learn how to find the balance they need to feel positively about all aspects of the things they do: mothering, working, taking care of themselves. This is one of the reasons why maternity or paternity leave is important, actually. This time off allows parents to focus on being a parent…on integrating this child into their lives, so that when other things have to come into play, there isn’t as much frustration, worry or resentment in shifting focus.
Some of the research actually shows that it isn’t whether or not a mother is working that is most impactful on her children, rather, it is her mental health. A mother’s mental health has significant impact
on her family, not surprisingly. If a mother is depressed or uber stressed, it will impact everyone within the family. In fact, a child’s physical health and cognitive development can be impacted if a mother’s mental health is not good. Thus, the importance of a mother having some time to bond with, get used to a child’s presence, and the simultaneous importance of having supports during this time.
Working mothers teach their children a great deal, such as:
1) Responsibility: research shows that, especially for girls, working mothers are excellent role models. They demonstrate to their daughters that it is possible to take care of oneself, as well as others.
2) Commitment: working parents show their children how to follow through on things and how to create opportunities. It’s not easy to raise a family, work, and take care of oneself. It takes commitment to do so.
3) Empowerment: Working allows people to have a sense of independence and entitlement. It can provide a sense of empowerment to children, that they can accomplish whatever they put their minds to, and can be successful in multiple areas of their lives.
It is important for mother’s to adjust their life accordingly so that they feel as though they are most effective in all areas. Below are a few things to try, in order to accomplish this goal:
1) Find balance: take time to think about what things are priority. If you want to be at your daughter’s baseball game, try to arrange the timing so you can. This requires planning, and organization but it’s worth it.
2) Say no: sometimes, you have to say no to certain things so that you feel in control and able to be effective in all areas of your life.
3) Find support: if you have a partner, ask for help when you need it. If you are a single parent, find other single parents. You may all be able to help one another.
Here’s a segment from CBS’ The Early Show on this topic: