Being a working mother is a very challenging role to take on, especially when living in countries that do not highly support women experiencing employment and childbearing in a simultaneous fashion. For instance, the United States is the only developed nation in the world that does not provide guaranteed paid maternity or paternity leave to all workers. In fact, only 12 percent of Americans reportedly possessed such paid leave in 2013.
For many, being a mother and working at the same time is considered a balancing act on the brink of failure. That negative attitude persists despite the increase in working mothers since the 1900s. According to a 1997 - 2007 study by the Pew Research Center, 41 percent of the U.S. adult population viewed working mothers as problematic for society. Compare that to only 22 percent that believed working mothers were good for public welfare. Yet recent research has shown that being a working mother is doing less harm than what many believe.
If you are a working mother, then I have good news for you! Your effort as a mom pursuing employment will likely contribute to a very valuable payoff for your child(ren). This is especially the case for mothers that work outside the home. So, if you are suffering from working mothers’ guilt, hold back your tears and enjoy reading this article.
How Children of Working Moms Benefit
According to Harvard researchers, working mothers produce more successful daughters and more conscientious sons. The study completed by the researchers surveyed 50,000 adults in 24 developed nations. They found that daughters of working moms spent more years in education, were more likely to have a career, were more likely to be in roles of management, and earned more money.
For women with working mothers, 69 percent were employed, and 22 percent were supervisors. For women with stay-at-home mothers, 66 percent were employed, and 18 percent were supervisors.
As for sons of working moms, they were not influenced by their moms with regard to handling their own careers. Yet their working mothers did influence their perspective toward domestic labor in a good way. Men who were raised by working mothers displayed more effort with household chores and caring for children.
In the US, daughters of working mothers earned 23% more than their peers who were raised by stay-at-home mothers, the study found, while "sons of working moms spent seven and a half more hours a week on childcare and 25 more minutes on housework."
Those outcomes in the behaviors of adults are more present in countries with greater division in attitudes about gender norms for women (e.g. United States and Israel). That is also the case for countries where opinions about gender are more conservative, such as Mexico and Russia. Nordic countries (e.g. Norway) exhibit less of those outcomes since there is more acceptance toward women working. Therefore, children of working women are more prevalent in Nordic countries, which have better maternal and child health outcomes. That means there is less of a gap in gender attitudes and behaviors of adults and children.
On the other hand, not everyone is onboard with the study. Other researchers believe the data does not carry enough significance because they have not identified a direct source of causation for working mothers’ children performing better. In other words, working mothers having more productive children appears to be more about correlation than causation. Such considerations open the door to thoughtful questions: do working mothers cause their daughters to work? Is the data actually revealing the effects of working mothers’ educational status rather than employment status in children’s lives? Does a more educated mother have more successful children?
The study is really getting at something deeper than a specific cause. It is a reflection of the relationship many working mothers and their children have together.
The Power of Parental Role Modeling
The study indicated the strong effect parents’ behaviors have on their children. It’s a very common phenomenon for children to follow in their parents’ footsteps and replicate roles and activities they observe of their parents - from eating patterns to communication styles to career paths.
For instance, you have most likely seen a scenario play out in a TV show or movie involving a parent(s) pressuring their child to take up a profession that is commonplace in the family. The dad was a doctor, so now the dad wants his son to be a doctor and carry on the career as a family tradition. Sound familiar? Well, that is a recurring pattern in the real world. It’s a pattern that you may have even experienced or seen.
Such an experience is not necessarily the case in the relationship between working mothers and their children. Yet at the core of their situation is role modeling.
According to Harvard Business School professor Kathleen L. McGinn, the lead author of the study,
“All of us grow up with a set of expectations about what we’re supposed to do. Role modeling is a way of signaling what’s appropriate in terms of how you behave, what you do, the activities you engage in, and what you believe.”
Working moms act as positive role models to their children by encouraging the internalization of independence and professional development. As for the real feelings adults have about their working mothers, many have expressed high admiration for the work positions their mothers actively held. One example from a Forbes article is below:
"Watching my mother working as an adolescent was incredibly inspiring. I saw her put herself through a Masters and PhD program, all while maintaining a full time job and working as a single mother. She taught me how to be dedicated, to have a passion for my own personal education, and how to communicate well with others in and out of the work place. I am more successful because I saw my mother work." –Blaire Knight-Graves, 25, Chicago, IL
As a daughter of a working mother myself, I can definitely say that I am inspired by my mother’s work ethic and her diligence. My mother taught me the importance of embracing flexibility. Making changes where necessary and being as adaptable as possible is something that is highly valued in our lives. Change is something that did not always come easy to me growing up and is still challenging.
After my mother lost her job as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) due to the 2007 U.S. recession, while I was in high school, I witnessed her tenacity to endure changes with a positive attitude. Her positive outlook on change enabled her to effectively adapt to her circumstances - and it paid off. She took on job offers at different locations to compensate shortly after her loss. That helped us stay in the same house we lived in for years during the recession. She eventually worked her way back to being a LPN at the same location she lost her job. She did all that as a single mother.
From all her effort, I learned that changes in one’s circumstances - whether desirable or not - can lead to healthy episodes of inner growth and the development of a stronger character. If you had a working mother during your childhood, how did she inspire you? How was she like "Wonder Woman" in your life?
The Benefits Extend Beyond More Successful Children
There are many other reasons why being a working mother is an awesome experience. Besides raising more prosperous and courteous children, working moms have more advantages that include better psychological and social health among other things.
- Working mothers are less likely to suffer from depression, compared to stay-at-home mothers. Their employment usually serves as a broader source of identity and fulfilment, which generates greater life satisfaction.
- Working mothers are usually happier in relationships. The happiness and fulfilment that comes with being employed adds enthusiasm and excitement to relationships. Working mothers feel as though they have more to bring to the table socially, in addition to having more social connections.
- Working mothers benefit by enjoying breaks from managing home life (which tends to be more stressful for them) through their employment. It allows them to have more optimization in their lives as well as less emotional strain.
- Working mothers deal with less financial stress since they are more able to fund their lifestyles and control their income. The income they bring home to support their families is more than a payoff for the bills, but their cortisol levels, also.
- Working mothers can harvest more opportunities for professional growth. Being employed allows them to gain valuable work experience that can lead to more job offers in the future, which can mean more expertise in diverse fields.
The study is not meant to bash the experience of being a stay-at-home mother. If that is the route you take, then good for you. There are also positive consequences that arise from primarily managing the home, such as having no need to commute. On the other hand, the study suggests a larger set of options that mothers have in terms of how they lead their lives and the possible effects of that on their children.
Are you a working mother? Do you agree with the study? Let us know your thoughts about this topic in the comments section below.