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Are Working Moms More Prone To Depression Than Stay-At-Home Moms?

Me, at home with my daughter, Violet

For the past decade I’ve worked as a producer in local television news. I’ve covered a lot of amazing stories during my career including the kidnapping and unbelievable return of Elizabeth Smart, the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, and some pretty high profile murder cases.

I loved it. I was never bored. And then I had a child and I hated it. The guilt over not spending more time with my daughter was crippling. She bonded more with her dad than with me and I felt left out. I determined that it would not be the same with my second child.

I gave birth to Henry a little over two months ago and was able to quit my job to become a freelance writer while on maternity leave. I am now a stay-at-home-mom who works from home. Guess what? The guilt is the same. I feel guilty I’m not entertaining the kids enough or that they may be watching too much TV.

The whole experience made me wonder: are working moms more prone to depression than those who stay at home?

I have an answer.

Mothers of young children face difficult decisions when it comes to employment. Some feminists warn that staying home leads to social isolation, increasing the risk of maternal depression. But many neo-traditionalists counter that employment increases women’s stress levels, leading to depression because of lost time with children or worries about child care.

The question of whether working or staying home causes depression matters not just for the sake of mothers’ happiness, but for the well-being of children, since maternal depression is a risk factor for children. So it is important to know the findings of a new study: When it comes to mothers’ risk of depression, both these one-size-fits-all arguments miss the mark.

The new study I quoted from suggests that it’s less important whether a mother works outside of the home than the kind of job she has.  Working moms who have good jobs had among the lowest levels of depressive symptoms of all the mothers studied. Mothers who did not work outside the home were only unhappy if they wanted to work. In fact, the women who were stay-at-home-moms who wanted to work face the same risk of depression than the women working crappy jobs.

So, as the study says, employment isn’t always “good” or “bad” for women’s morale. Much depends on the quality of the job, and this can even trump a woman’s preference. Makes sense. A satisfying job seems to keep depression at bay. It also is likely to pay more which eliminates a lot of the financial strain that can cause depression, so there are several factors at play.

The study was written by two American sociologists and could help in understanding the problem of maternal depression – which sociologists say they’re increasingly concerned about. Other research has found high levels of depression especially among moms with kids under age three. This is bad for kids and spouses as well as mothers, and tends to strain sometimes already fragile families.

Hopefully, since I chose and want to be at home, I can avoid the depression that so often strikes mothers with young children.  Of course, then I had to go and read this:  Parents Working at Home Hurt Kids.  Dear God, can’t a mom get a break?  Yeesh.

I have to admit, it’s been a tough transition.  I could go days without speaking to another adult, properly dressing and putting on make-up.  That seems to be a recipe for depression, though, so I make it a point to shower every day, get dressed and try to get to the gym for a quick hour of cardio.

What have you discovered on your motherhood journey?  Are you a better mom if you work?  Like the study says, does the job matter or are you just happy to get out of the house and talk to adults?  Or are you a better stay-at-home mom?  Maybe you’re like me?  A stay-at-home-mom who works?  Got any tips or tricks for keeping the mother-induced guilt and subsequent depression at bay?

The study was released Friday by the Council of Contemporary Families

Image: The Salt Lake Tribune

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