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Are working moms happier than ones who stay at home?

A British survey takes a closer look

by Veronica  |  33433 views  |  21 comments  |        Rate this now! 

Of course there are those who are SAHMs and aren't built for the job. One former SAHM wrote me to tell me that:

When I was 100% SAHM with small children, I was the most depressed and unhappy I've ever been in my life. As were most of my friends at the time.  The best we could do was tie our life boats together and hope to get through another day. Unless your personality is configured to be a domestic goddess (re: you LOVE to put your house in order, decorate, embellish & then do it all again) or your kids are superstars of some kind (ballet everyday, soccer everyday--julliard or olympics to follow) OR you homeschool (which god knows is a full-time job)--i think it's super hard to stay upbeat, no matter how much social stimulation you have.

It's important to note that stay-at-home-moms are often still working. SAHMs are also freelance writers, journalists, artists, Tupperware women, Mary Kay ladies, on and on. Let's look at the report itself:

For those out there who are thinking, but what about health status? Class? Income levels? Egalitarian households? The answer: It didn't matter.

We British research report says the researchers experimented with a number of splits, distinguishing between couples with and without children; women with high education and low education; couples with a high family income and couples with a low family income; older women and younger women; women in good health and women in poor health; women who work compared with working women who view their hours of work as OK compared with all women; women with partners aged 50 years or more and women with younger partners; women who did the majority of domestic chores and those who did not.21 The results of all these additional analyses were remarkably similar. Whatever the sub-sample, the puzzle remains.

Bottom line? Women, with or without children, prefer part-time work over no work AND full-time work. The slight outcome that mothers are "happier" when the kids run off to school is the main headline heard around the world. But the real conclusion is a tad hairier than my legs in winter: Work/life balance is screwing with all of us women, not just us breeders who want to take the afternoon off to hit the holiday play. Not just us mothers who call in sick to stay with our feverish children. It affects even the child-free women of the world -- those who want the afternoon off to maybe hit the gym early, read that book that's been sitting on her night stand since Hanukkah 2005, or to spend some time with their dog on a beautiful sunny day. This report should not had been heralded as just one more shot in the Mommy Wars, but one more shot for us, women, wanting to bring this world back from the brink of insanity that is 50, 60+ work weeks.

About the Author

Veronica I. Arreola is a professional feminist living in Chicago with her husband & Mini-Me daughter. You can read more of her rants at .

Read more by Veronica

21 comments so far...

  • This article really pinged me because I'm not loving working out of the home now (and because just this morning I blogged about this). Lots of the "good mothering" is really dependent on being present all the time.

    I like working, in general, though I'm not in love with my specific job right now. I'd love to figure out how to work at home, but as teacher, it seems unlikely that I'll get all of my middle schoolers to come to me.

    Like you, I don't see this as an either/or. Some days, like during break, when I get to stay at home I'm so happy and other days, it's all I can do not to put my head in the oven. Some work days are super satisfying and some make me yearn to be at home with my baby.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Kat on 25th January 2008

  • I work full time outside of my home. My house is never clean like it used to be pre-baby. I never feel like I can spend enough time with my daughter. Right now, I'm fortunate enough to have my mom be our babysitter while we both work. It does ease my mind to know she's in very good hands, but my mom doesn't do things like I would. I'm not saying I'd like to be a SAHM forever, but for at least until she's 3 or 4. I think the first several years are the most important in developing who they are as an individual and personally I don't want to miss as much of that as I do now.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by on 16th January 2008

  • I don't convince myself of my happiness. I know for a fact that I am happier working. I suspect many other women do as well. You see-self esteem in a capitalist society is linked to money earned.

    Unfortunately, there's no getting away from it. One of the first questions people ask when they meet each other is this one:

    "So, what do you do?"

    That's no accident.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Uhura on 15th January 2008

  • Thanks for all the comments!

    designmom, you pose an awesome question - "would I be a better mother if I spent 12 hours a day with him instead of 3? Or am I a better mother because we have 2 incomes and great health insurance? "

    Tonight my lil one told me that she couldn't go to bed because we hadn't had have enough cuddle time. *sigh*

    Part of me wants to crawl into bed with her, but I know she'll do just that to me in a few hours. :D

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Veronica on 15th January 2008

  • Thanks for zoning in on this huge issue. I agree with the view you express: who says this is an either/or situation? In any case, me and most of the other moms I know work part time either from home or elsewhere, which totally muddies the water. I think either can be hard, trying to both is hard, too. I think 99% of us CAN agree that we're all over-worked and over-scheduled!!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Diane on 15th January 2008

  • I work full-time outside the home, and depending on what time of day you ask me, I love my life or I hate it. I would love to be able to stay home, but financially it is not an option.

    And it isn't as though being a SAHM is a vacation - it's WORK, without the benefit of a paycheck. But like any job, it's not right for everyone.

    I wonder how many other WOHMs out there, like me, convince ourselves that we're "happier" to have a full-time job because that's the only way we can kiss our babies goodbye and go off to work 5+ days a week without totally losing it? I come home just in time to give him dinner and put him to bed... would I be a better mother if I spent 12 hours a day with him instead of 3? Or am I a better mother because we have 2 incomes and great health insurance?

    At the end of the day, we are all individual people with different needs, and we're all doing the best we can for ourselves and our children.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by designmom on 15th January 2008

  • This is so interesting to me. I really think it goes back to that women want to do it all, and we feel like we're failing if we don't.

    I know for me I love my part time work. I love being able to see all of the baby firsts and be at home with her, but there is a great deal of satisfaction from bringing home a paycheck, and honing my skills.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by mamajama on 14th January 2008

  • The results of the study are not surprising at all to me.

    People's self esteem is linked to their happiness and happiness is linked to doing "important" work. Unfortunately, our society places a low value on anything labelled as "women's work" - which most people still believe is cooking, cleaning, child care and child rearing. Conversely, a high value is placed upon money generating activities-paid labor, usually outside the home.

    Also, depending on one wage earer is extremely risky: If your family's wage earner is no longer willing or able to provide funds - you'll end up in a bind as many women have experienced firsthand when their spouses became injured / sick / disabled or involved with another woman.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Uhura on 14th January 2008

  • I think I was a little happier when I was working out of the home but not entirely.

    I felt the need to leave a comment because I am entertaining the idea of going back.

    I think if more companies offered Flex-time benefits to moms there would be less fall out from moms on maternity leave.

    I took the entire 12 weeks plus 4 more unpaid weeks when my son was born(he was a little sickies).

    My vote is to give 6 months maternity leave or do like they do in Europe and offer 1 year maternity leave. Some places in Europe even send help to directly to their home. They help out with groceries and laundry.

    I went back to work for 1 year after my son and I was miserable until I negotiated flex time. Unfortunately the Flex time was not embraced by a new management and I was gone.

    Now I am stay at home mom and there are days I just want to get on the train and head into the city for some quiet time.

    I miss working because I feel a loss of independence, the contributiion I made to the family, me time, I had a cleaning person and it wasn't me, I never dealt with the laundry and never saw the grocery strore.

    I don't miss working because I get to experience all the 1sts with my kids. I tend to be on the sappy side when it comes to my kids. I am a crier at school plays.

    I really think it is an individual preference.

    Nothing is perfect all the time.

    I don't think anyone should be judged for making the choice to stay home or not. I hear it happen all the time.

    I never thought I was SAHM and still to this day go back and forth. I am determined to make something out of but who knows:))

    Thanks for article.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by on 13th January 2008