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Why Working Moms Should Feel Great About Themselves

First in a series from the author of "The Feminine Mistake"

by Leslie Bennetts  |  92986 views  |  29 comments  |        Rate this now! 

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.

About the Author

Leslie Bennetts is a veteran journalist and the author of the national best-seller, The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? Her book was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post and is now out in paperback. Widely hailed as a must-read for women of all ages, this controversial book documents the benefits of work and the risks of economic dependency for women who give up their jobs to become full-time homemakers. She is a long time Vanity Fair magazine writer and is a mother of two teenagers.

Read more by Leslie Bennetts

29 comments so far...

  • ok so i posted first and then forgot to come back... WOW!

    I am so saddened that people feel like they need to leave WIM because they featured an article with strong opinions! Aren’t we all grown-ups here? We should be able to maturely listen to the opinions of others even if they differ from our own. They are opinions. Sometimes they open your eyes to another point of view, sometimes they can just solidify your own view. Either way – how is this offensive? If we can’t openly discuss and encourage each other to speak freely about our opinions how can we learn and grow and empathize?

    I don’t understand why people are offended that someone offered a strong opinion. There are bloggers here on the WIM Blogs that are very opinionated about things like politics or clothing or bacon or anything else of-the-moment and I don’t see people ‘disappointed’ at those opinions! I don’t eat meat – I am not offended by the bacon posts – I find them enjoyable! (even if the pictures kinda gross me out a little, I figure that’s my problem! I am not going to insist that pictures aren’t posted! They are part of the fun!  )

    That said – my opinion is that my son is better off at his daycare than at home with me. They are trained extensively on how to teach the children at each stage of development. He has great peer interactions and loves going every day. We have a happy and well adjusted family with our arrangement.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Kate on 14th March 2008

  • The title is "10 Reasons Working Moms Should Feel Great about Themseves" not "... better than stay at home moms". I would love to see all moms feel great about their choices, and spend less energy on guilt and second guessing their choices. The bottom line is that some mothers are happier working and some mothers are happier not working. My hope is that each mother will have the confidence and the ability to make the choice that truly makes her happiest, so she can be the mother she wants to be . That is different for each individual.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Brenda Bonin on 14th March 2008

  • I have not read the book, but I did see a few minutes of the author on a C-Span book review. She made some good points about when you leave the work force it is hard to get back in etc. However, I found her to be defensive when people questioned the idea of staying home. Maybe that was due to all the attacks that were made. I guess I really need to read the book to have a better opinion. Regardless of the book though I agree that you should do what makes you happy and that is that. It is up to you to do what is right for your family. There is no wrong answer in my opinion!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Christine on 14th March 2008

  • It doesn't matter whether she meant working at home or working outside. I work full time but frankly, even I felt that Work It, Mom should not have FEATURED this article. It could have been a link to start a debate. I love my work, I love the fact that I have a career, but you know what? The only reason I'm able to work outside the house is because I have my mom who takes care of my son. Despite the fact that we need the money, I would give up my career in a heartbeat if I felt my family needed me more. Professionally I'm very ambitious, but my family comes first.

    I think Lylah's right when she points out about women being secure and fulfilled being happier than those who don't. Well my mom is one of those women, and she gave up her career when she got married. Does that mean she should feel less great about herself. In a word, NO.

    Yes, times have changed, but working or not is a woman's choice. And yes, Non Toxic Mom correctly points out that men can't have children and there's a reason for that. We do have some fab dads and some fab stay-at-home dads, but it all boils down to personal choice.

    I'm not dropping out of Work It, Mom. Not yet. But I must say I was greatly saddened to see this piece featured here.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by A Lost Writer on 14th March 2008

  • I find most of these comments very offensive and im sure other readers feel the same...why is it that when a women writes an article about other women working that everyone is up in arms of course its all work i dont think the writter disputed that but her intention was to point out that most of society looks at woment who are working be it for financial or other reasons are seen to be bad mothers and the guilt involved in being a mother in an economy were it is almost impossible to be a SAHM still manages to make us feel like losers. I agree i think women were designed to be care givers i also agree thtat there a women who do not see themselves in the role. I dont honestly know if i could handle my two year old son all day every day - he is in daycare and he loves every minute of it, he is loved by all the teachers and assistance and they all know him by name. I feel bad that i am not the one able to provide him with the stimulation he would need if i was a SAHM and i would leave him in day care if i could afford to not work!! Does that make me a bad parent? I dont think so i think it makes me a parent who can make a disission that suits the needs of her family and i dont think i should be made to feel guilty for that decision!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Marcia on 14th March 2008

  • Hmmm... I read "working mom" and assumed she meant moms who work, whether in or out of the home, in their own businesses or for someone else, as freelancers or as full-timers. It's all work, right?

    I think that, in general, women who feel secure and fulfilled in their endeavors will be happier than those who don't. For some, this means working outside the home. For others, this means working from home. For still others, this means pursuing interests that have nothing to do with income but make them feel satisfied and engaged.

    I'd be willing to bet there's a large percentage of women who work outside of the home because they have to, not because they want to, and those women are not going to be happier than the ones who get to do what they want to do with their lives.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse on 14th March 2008

  • It was my hope that this site would never get into this debate. I've enjoyed being here and learning from such intelligent women. I now find it sad that we have been somehow pitted against one another. I have very strong opinions about being home with my child. I believe it is what women were intended to do really. Men can't bear children and there's a reason for that. I'm fully aware that some women have to work. It is what our society has created, and personally I find it sad. I can't imagine what a different child my son would be if he were raised by someone else. Yes I said raised by someone else. Do we really believe we are raising children from 6pm - 8pm? I'm so sick and tired of hearing people say that stay at home mothers are bored and feel they should be doing more. If you're bored raising your own child, then there's a problem. Being a mother is the most important job a person can do. If you fail at it, then what else really matters? I could go on and on, but I'm not going to. This is something I feel so personally distraught about, it's hard for me to even express. It is my hope that someday more people will begin to realize just how important being a parent is. I truly believe this world will be a better place when we can all put our children before our own needs, and stop needing a pat on the back for every self-sacrificing thing we do. We have the power to change the world, if we would just stop the denial. My best wishes to all you wonderful, intelligent women who come to this site. I've so enjoyed your comments, articles and stories. Today will likely be my last visit though. I wish you all the best.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Non Toxic Mom on 14th March 2008

  • Like PunditMom, I'm wondering why we're still having this discussion. I find it troubling to generalize the term "happy" - how are we defining happiness among today's moms? I worked at a high-paced job for almost 2 years before I threw in the towel. I don't need to work, and so now I'm not. In fact, my stress level is down, I'm more relaxed and "happier" than I was when I was working. But my happiness might be different from the working mom next door or the stay at home mom down the street. I think that we all need to do what's good for ourselves, in the short or long term and not worry about generalizations to the general mothering population.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Sara on 14th March 2008

  • I agree that it's important not to base major life decisions on media reports (including books!) For many women, they are happier when they are working. For many women, they are happier when they are at home full-time with their kids. I am in full support of women (who can make a choice in the first place) to trust their own instincts and experience and do whatever works well for them and their individual families. It's true for many professions there aren't clear "on ramps" back into the workforce. There can be "penalties" in many professions for taking time out of them (loss of prestige, loss of earning power, etc.) For many women, that sacrifice is worth the experience they have as primary caretaker of their kids. It doesn't matter to me what percentage of women are happier at work vs. at home - what matters to me is my own individual experience.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Heather Mundell on 13th March 2008

  • To each his own on whether you want to work or not. Personally for me I am a much better Mom to my two kids working than I was when I stayed at home for a 1 1/2. I do not have guilt for pursuing something I went to school for and I love what I do. If you have a husband who is in full support of what you do and who helps out with the household chores then you can have a balanced life. It's not always easy but together as a team you can accomplish anything.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by StaceyH on 13th March 2008

  • This is true for me. I took a year off work to stay home with my daughter and found I needed something else to focus on. I started my own business and now have the best of both worlds. I can stay involved with my profession and stay home with my (now) two daughters!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Lisa Nelson on 13th March 2008

  • I have to disagree with the statement that working makes mothers happier, at least in my case. Not only am I guilty, I'm more stressed and less rested, which can turn into a short fuse and lack of energy....which brings us back to guilt and stress. It's a cycle that only a fraction of working mothers manage to avoid.

    For me, working is a neccessity because I am a single mother. It doesn't make it any easier to come to terms with if it's the only option, let me tell you.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Rebecca on 13th March 2008