Working mothers have long been burdened with guilt over the decision to go back to the grindstone and hand their little ones over to childcare.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than simply choosing to spend one’s days making money over mudpies; every mum longs to magically extend those precious moments with her kids, yet, all too often, real-world financial pressures leave few alternatives. And, whatever the Mummy Wars opposition might argue, the desire to keep a hard-earned career afloat is not worthy of societal backlash.
But evidence is mounting that having a working mother does in fact have some economic, educational and social benefits for children of both sexes.
In a new study of 50,000 adults in 25 countries, daughters of working mothers completed more years of education, were more likely to be employed (and in supervisory roles) and earned higher incomes. Having a working mother didn’t influence the careers of sons, which researchers said was unsurprising because men were generally expected to work — but sons of working mothers did spend more time on child care and housework.
Other researchers, however, say that it’s difficult to know whether the daughters involved in the study chose to work because of the singular fact that their mothers worked, or whether other factors were more influential – such as the mother getting an education.
Either way, the new study, which was conducted by the International Social Survey Program, is part of a shift away from focusing on whether working mothers negatively impact children and toward a richer understanding of the relationship between work and family.
According to Kathleen McGinn, a professor at Harvard Business School and an author of the study, “kids will be so much better off if women spend some time at work.” It’s a claim that’s easy to balk at before you’ve considered the results of the research – and not just from the Harvard study; a 2010 meta-analysis of 69 studies over 50 years found that in general, children whose mothers worked when they were young had no major learning, behavior or social problems, and tended to be high achievers in school and have less depression and anxiety.
The specifics of McGinn’s statement are equally important: she emphasises that children benefit when their mothers spend some time at work. In other words, children are obviously at an advantage when their parents are around more, but parents’ attitudes toward gender roles and work will also greatly affect their children’s attitudes.
Whether you’ve chosen to stay at home with your kids, or continued on the career path, it remains your responsibility to positively role-model how to cope with the various demands life can bring – be it the necessity to make money, or to take a moment to make some mudpies.