For some women, one of the most difficult decisions they will make after having children is whether or not to return to work. Whether the desire to work outside the home is based on financial need or not, leaving your young child in the care of someone else is just plain hard. Not only do working moms worry about what they are missing at home, they often feel guilty about how their absence may negatively impact their children’s lives down the road.
But for those who are second-guessing themselves and feeling guilty, there’s some good news. According to a review of over 50 years of research on the subject, most children of working mothers tend to suffer very little – if at all – academically or behaviorally. In fact, researchers say that in some cases, having a working mother is actually beneficial to a child.
In reaching this conclusion, the researchers at the University of California, Irvine, looked at previous studies that measured academic abilities and behavioral problems in children whose mothers returned to work – full or part time – before the child’s third birthday. Some of those studies were long term, following the children for several years and even into adolescence.
The upshot is this: For kids from single-parent or low-income families, having a mother who worked resulted in better academic and intelligence scores and fewer behavioral problems than children whose mothers did not work. This, the researchers theorize, is due to the fact that mom’s income affords the family more resources.
However, the story is a little bit different for kids in two-parent, middle- and upper-income families. They were found to be slightly more likely to have decreased academic achievement and increased behavioral issues if their mothers had gone back to work during the first year of their lives.
Of course, these findings could be used to bolster the arguments of those who believe that a mother who doesn’t need the money to survive, shouldn’t work. But lead author of the study, Rachel Lucas-Thompson, PhD, doesn’t see it that way.
Overall, I think this shows women who go back to work soon after they have their children should not be too concerned about the effects their employment has on their children’s long-term well-being.
To be honest, this research leaves me a little confused about the differences in impact between lower- and middle-income families. In many cases, the reason a family is raised above lower-income status is due to the fact that mom is working. And that additional income, according to the researchers, is likely the reason that lower-income kids show increased academic performance and decreased behavioral issues. Is the benefit to children of working moms only realized in families where her income doesn’t raise them out of poverty?
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