We all know it’s not easy being a working mom. All too often, mothers who work outside the home feel conflicted and apologetic about their choice, even when it’s dictated by financial necessity. All too rarely do they receive the kind of validation and support they deserve. Between the stress, the guilt and the sheer physical demands of juggling family and job, most of us have days when we wonder why our lives have to be so complicated.
Well, it’s time to take heart! As The Feminine Mistake
makes clear, working mothers are, in most cases, doing the best possible thing for their children by contributing to the family income and maintaining their own financial viability. This series will highlight some of the surprising research I uncovered when writing the book.
Prepare to pat yourself on the back -- you have lots of excellent reasons to feel good about the choice you’ve made!
REASON NUMBER ONE: Working Women Are Happier
The media constantly harp on the stress of the juggling act and the relief women supposedly feel when they opt out of the work force. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the grass is greener on the soccer mom’s side of the fence, where stay-at-home mothers are free to devote all their time to children and home. Would working women be happier if they gave up the hassles of balancing job and family in favor of baking cookies and planting daffodils?
In fact, they probably wouldn’t -- not even in the short run, and almost certainly not over the long haul. As demonstrated in The Feminine Mistake,
the truth about life as a full-time homemaker is very different from all that retrograde hype about the joys of opting out.
Contrary to popular mythology, decades of social science research have consistently shown that working mothers are happier and less anxious than stay-at-home moms; those cliches about desperate housewives fighting depression and substance abuse turn out to contain a good deal of truth. Moreover, when full-time homemakers return to paid work outside the home, their mental and emotional health improves significantly.
For example, one study found that women who had a child and stayed in the work force showed no increase in psychological distress -- but women who had a child and dropped out of the work force experienced a major increase in stress.
The boredom and lack of satisfaction experienced by many stay-at-home mothers are troubling enough when their children are young, but the problem becomes acute as the kids get older. Wrapped up in their own lives, teenagers assert their independence; husbands are busy with their careers. At this stage in life, stay-at-home moms may find the empty nest traumatic indeed, whereas working mothers with rewarding careers have ample opportunities for positive reinforcement outside the home.