05 mayo 2016

When I grow up I want to be like my mom


I know that I am not alone in carrying with me daily a sense of unease about how much time I am away from my child and what effect that will have on him. Mothers’ stress about limited quality time with their children and their children’s wellbeing is a common thread of the conversations between mothers. And for single mothers, this stress is even more acute.

There is evidence of the long-term social and emotional benefits for children when a mother stays at home during a child’s first year, and when a secure parent-child relationship is formed during the first two years.  And, more recently, the effects of stay-at-home parents on the educational outcomes of older siblings has also been documented.

Dear working mothers: on this Mother’s Day, let’s let go of the guilt and celebrate! Mothers who work outside of our homes offer more to our children than we give ourselves credit for.

And here are some facts to prove it, according to a recent Harvard Business School study. Daughters of working mothers are more likely to be employed, hold supervisory positions and earn higher wages than their peers whose mothers stayed home full time. And sons of working moms are more likely to grow up contributing to the childcare and household chores.

The authors found that by having a diverse set of activities, working mothers model alternatives to their children, letting them see that there are multiple roles that women and men can play, in their lives at work and in the household.  What is most striking to me is the conclusion that being raised by a working mom leads to “much more egalitarian gender attitudes for adults.” This finding holds true across 24 countries studied, including Chile and Mexico.

When mom works outside the home, children benefit

And this is not the first study pointing out benefits rather than harm associated with women’s work outside the home. In fact, a review of 50 years of research on the effects of maternal employment work on children’s achievements found that kids whose moms went back to work when they were between the ages of 1 and 3 had no worse academic or behavioral problems than kids whose moms stayed home; in fact, they tended to be high achievers in school and have less depression and anxiety. The positive effects were particularly strong for children from low-income or single-parent families.

Another study goes even further, and makes a strong case that having a mother who works outside the home actually benefits a child’s academic performance, if they live somewhere that actively supports them. This is very much the case in the subject country of Denmark, which has generous parental leave policies and makes substantial investments in early childhood care.

This underscores something that every mom who works outside the home knows: we can be effective, positive role models for our children, when –as I explained in a previous post, we can find adequate support in different spheres of our lives.

At work, with meaningful parental leave, flexible work arrangements, and accommodations during pregnancy and lactation. At home, promoting a greater co-responsibility in child rearing and family work. In the community, through coaching and support groups.

And, clearly this support must be complemented by affordable, quality child care. Poor quality child care is linked to the kinds of negative outcomes for children that all mothers who work outside the home want to avoid.

Dear working mothers, dear stay-at-home mothers: happy Mother’s Day and may all of your hopes for your children come to fruition.

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