I’ll never forget the day I realized that I’d been booked to go to a conference for work in Las Vegas the same day my daughter was graduating from fifth grade. I was at a new job with a pretty strict boss. I’d already said I could go, not realizing that the two events were in conflict. I felt like the worst mother ever. I can still recall the feeling of shame and disappointment in myself.
I have been the sole breadwinner in my home for six years now. I’ve worked my entire adult life, including most of the fifteen years I’ve been a mother. I’ve been pretty creative (and lucky) in finding work-from-home arrangements, but my children have seen first-hand the conflict between mothering and work responsibilities. Last night, for example, I had to get up from a snuggly TV night when my West Coast-based boss needed to talk about a developing situation at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. They’ve seen me travel around the country and commute to and from Manhattan in the grinding rat race. They’ve seen me miss things like fifth grade graduations. But they’ve also seen me rush home to coach their soccer teams and figure out ways to take time off to help chaperone field trips.
Are they better or worse off for it?
The narrative usually fed to mothers is that children are better off with stay-at-home moms. After all, doesn’t it stand to reason that a mother fully focused on child-rearing will raise happier children? Turns out: not necessarily.
In a recent study of 50,000 adults, it was found that daughters of working mothers completed more years of education and had higher earnings than daughters of stay-at-home moms. In the U.S., daughters of working moms earned 23% more than daughters of stay-at-home moms. A 2010 meta-analysis of studies about working moms and their children found that kids of moms who work outside the home had no major learning or behavioral problems (the big bugaboo used to scare working mothers for the last two generations) and tended to suffer from less depression and anxiety. It turns out that some of the most significant questions about working moms are not about whether they work or not. Instead, it’s the attitude of working moms in relation to their kids and work – access to child care, long hours vs. more reasonable ones, whether their work is rewarding, etc.
This is not a post to revive the totally outdated Mommy Wars. I don’t think being a working mom is “better” or that my children will do better than the children of my intelligent, engaged, wonderful stay-at-home friends simply because I work and they don’t. At various times throughout my children’s lives, I have both stayed at home (although always with a finger in some project or volunteer position) and worked fully outside the home. Today I work full time… but from home. I am the happiest I’ve ever been. I do know that being a working mom and paying my own way – with its autonomy and self-determination and freedom – has been better for me, and I think that’s the real crux of the issue: happy moms make happy kids. Work, don’t work, but be sure you’re living the life you want.
This post was inspired by a New York Times piece on research into the effects of working moms on kids. Click here to read the whole thing.