“See you later, Alligator.”Pamela Puja Kirpalani
Working mums, say goodbye to guilt for studies show huge benefits of mothers working outside the home.
Laptop perched on my left thigh and my unwell son’s elbow on the right, I sit pondering on this piece, wondering about the irony of the perennial working mother’s dilemma. To date, one of the biggest debates among parental circles still revolves around whether the mother should stay at home or work outside during a child’s early years. While policies increasingly encourage maternal leave to bring women back into the workforce, new studies are increasingly demonstrating evidence to the benefits of mothers working outside the home.
So, working moms, you can say goodbye to that lingering guilt because research shows that being a working parent has big positives for your children. This, without sweeping under the rug the wondrous benefits and rewards of being at home for your child, which stay-at-home mums can attest to.
The case for working mums begins here.
Heard the expression “you can’t fill from an empty cup”?
As soul-satisfying as it is to be at home with your children through their early years, stimulating work gives one an alternative sense of meaning and purpose - not just a life outside diapers, spilled apple sauce, and an opportunity to converse beyond three-word sentences.
A recent Gallup study suggests there might be something about working that creates more positive emotions for mothers, and the same study says that stay-at-home mums are more likely to suffer from depression. To back this, The Journal of Family Psychology found that “working moms are healthier and happier than mothers who stay at home when their children are babies and pre-schoolers.” It can be said that working outside the home gives a woman a renewed sense of identity which lends a sense of healthy self-esteem and robust independence.
Being away from the kids at work the whole day also motivates a working mother to come home and completely switch off from the rest of the world so she can enjoy focused interactive quality time with her children.
I can attest to this, and have personally found that after a long arduous, day at a workshop, my energy immediately lifts when I am about to see my children and spend time with them before they hit the sack. That one hour of ‘prime-time’ together becomes all the more magical and concentrated with stories of their day, my day, and ends up with bouts of jokes and laughter. Email, messages and Facebook can all wait. This contrasts with days where I am at home writing, half attached to my device, annoyed at small interruptions and all of us are spinning off surface-level 10-minute interactions. I am sure a majority of stay at home working mothers can relate to this.
Besides also bringing in money and raising the overall family income, working mothers have a positive impact on their daughters and sons later on in life. A recent Gender and Employment study conducted by Harvard Business School across 50,000 adults and 25 developed countries trumpets the gains of working outside the home.
"Women whose mothers worked outside the home are more likely to have jobs themselves, are more likely to hold supervisory responsibility at those jobs, and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home full-time, according to research by Kathleen McGinn and colleagues," writes Carmen Nobel on behalf of Harvard Business School.
The same study also states that daughters of working mothers end up earning 23 percent more than those of stay-at-home mums. However, while a son’s career does not seem to be directly influenced, the Harvard study shows that sons of working mothers log in more hours with their own kids every week, conduct more chores, and are hence deemed to be more empathetic partners and fathers.
It stands to reason that a working mother also provides a positive role model for both genders. Gone are the days when a mother was deemed within the household as a domestic custodian. Increasingly, women are equally entitled to have a professional life of their own. Girls will hence need to think about a purpose to live by, a career, an outlet other than just getting married and having children.
Boys, on the other hand, will become more accustomed to also having an equal part in household chores and shared work. Having my son away from school at home is a perfect example of imparting discipline and respect for my work - he knows every small nuisance or disturbance will impact my concentration. I have never heard him so quiet before. (I take this as a good indication!) Also, without a mother chasing you down to complete your homework, you are left to your own devices and learn valuable qualities such as self-discipline and independence.
One might dispute then, what about the academic and cognitive effects of a child raised in a day care or care-giving environment? In a recent ‘Growing Up in Scotland Study’, 2,200 children from the ages of 10 months to five years were assessed, and it was found that whether or not a woman works in the first five years of her child’s life, it has no bearing on the development of vocabulary and reasoning.
This is not to ignore the negative effects of leaving children in the hands of other care-givers. Unfortunately, studies have shown that children who attend daycare are more likely to be aggressive and defiant. The findings from a "huge, long-term government study... show that kids who spend long hours in day care have behaviour problems that persist well into elementary school," reported Heide Lang in a 2005 piece in Psychology Today.
The flipside of this is that studies show that these factors largely depend on the quality of the daycare center. In Denmark, 1.4 percent of the GDP is invested in daycare centers, compared with 0.4 percent in the US. Hence, it is important to do thorough research, interview and invest in the right caregiver and daycare center.
The secret of a successful guilt-free working environment of course comes with getting the balance right between work and parenting commitments. This means setting up a solid system before you embark upon a full time working job. Here are some tips to help you keep a healthy and sustainable system going:
- Finding a stable, long-term job with regular hours so as to provide consistency in schedule. Jumping from job to job and changing working hours can destabilise a child’s feeling of security at home.
- It is important to find a care-giver who shares the same value system as you and imparts a balance of good discipline and expresses love with healthy boundaries. This might mean you would need to spend time training and spending a few weeks at home initially. You could even have a check in system at home for the care-taker to tick off not just responsibilities, but also the “daily duties of love” she has imparted towards your child - such as a morning hug, a relaxing hymn before their nap; or even a fun game when they come home from school. This will help them become more accustomed to your style of parenting and give them an empowered sense of responsibility towards fulfilling your role.
- If it makes sense, you could invest in a high quality day care centre, and ensure you have regular check-ins and communication updates so that your child knows you are still present off-site.
- Of course, imperative is the unconditional support from your spouse and partner, and an understanding of sometimes having to sacrifice his work over yours if it is necessary. In order to make it to their school plays, PTCs and the like, also it is important to have a job with parent-friendly policies.
Fix routines and set interactions with your children to give them a sense of security and unconditional love such as night shower time, bed-time stories, morning walks to the bus, little notes in their lunchboxes, and the likes.