Moms

Working mom guilt, be gone! Your kids fare better, study finds

July 27, 2011 at 3:53 PM ET

Working moms are always fending off guilt. Are we spending enough time with our tots? Is day care screwing them up? Will they be complaining someday to a therapist about how mommy didn’t pay enough attention?

Scientists now say we can hang up the guilt. Our jobs, as it turns out, might be the best thing in the world for our kids – especially the girls.

A new study that tracked nearly 19,000 British children found that little girls with stay-at-home mothers were twice as likely to develop emotional or behavioral problems by age 5 as girls with working moms.

It’s not yet clear why working moms seem to have better adjusted daughters, said the study’s lead author Anne McMunn, a senior research fellow in the department of epidemiology and public health at the University College of London.

“It may be something to do with gender role modeling,” McMunn said. “There may be something that is very important for girls about seeing their mother participating in society outside the home.”

I’m already breathing a sigh of relief. My daughter will be thanking me when she grows up instead of complaining to a shrink.

The new findings seem to contradict earlier research suggesting that children suffer health and emotional consequences when mothers work. That research made a lot of moms uneasy about the time spent working.

McMunn and her colleagues followed 18,819 children born between September 2000 and January 2002. The researchers interviewed moms about their and their partners’ work status, along with other factors that might affect children’s emotional and behavioral development, such as the moms’ educational levels and tendencies to be depressed.

McMunn and her colleagues determined that the healthiest kids, in terms of emotional and behavioral development, were those with two parents in the household, both of whom worked. And that was regardless of maternal education level and household income.

Mom’s job wasn’t always good news. Boys from households where the mom was the sole breadwinner were more likely to display emotional and behavioral problems such as aggressiveness, hyperactivity or withdrawn behavior.

But in cases where the dad was employed, boys with stay-at-home moms were twice as likely to develop behavior and emotional as those with working moms. That difference was greatly diminished, however, once the researchers accounted for maternal depression.

Sounds like work makes moms happier, which leads to more well adjusted kids. 

When it came to the girls, behavior problems were less likely if the mom was a breadwinner, regardless of whether the mom was single or had a partner.

Girls with stay-at-home moms were six times as likely to develop behavior and emotional problems as those with working moms. When the researchers took factors such as maternal depression into account, girls with stay-at-home moms were still twice as likely to have developed behavior and emotional problems as those with working moms.

McMunn hopes to look at explanations for the findings in future research. “We are currently looking into whether there are any differences in parenting behavior or quality of relationships between working and stay-at-home mothers,” she said.

What do you think? Do kids do better or worse when the mom works?

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