Finally, a study drawing from 50 years of research supports what most of us have known all along: In spite of the Mommy Wars, working-mom guilt, and well-publicized reports to the contrary, infants and toddlers with working moms grow up to be just fine.
The study, which appears in the American Psychological Association’s publication, Psychological Bulletin, looked at 69 other studies from 1960 to 2010 and focused on academic and behavioral outcomes. What it didn’t find — evidence to support the things working moms typically feel guilty about, including the idea that kids suffer because their moms work — is as significant as what it did find — the fact that early maternial employment (before the child reached age 3) “was associated with higher achievement and fewer internalizing behaviors” like anxiety and depression.
“We really wanted to try to resolve some of the controversy and inconsistent findings around the issue of maternal employment,” lead author Rachel Lucas-Thompson, an assistant professor of psychology at Macalester College in Minnesota, told Time magazine last week.
Aside from doing well academically (in terms of achievement test scores, intelligence test outcomes, grades in school, and teachers’ assessments of their cognitive abilities) and having fewer incidents of anxiety or depression as they grew up, children of working moms benefited from the income earned by their mothers (of course) and from the close ties they formed with their caregivers. The study also found that “girls may benefit from role modeling and from potential correlates of maternal employment, such as greater independence training, more egalitarian parental gender roles, and increased paternal involvement.” (Boys, on the other hand, may require more supervision because of their “independence-seeking” behavior; no word on why this behavior is tied to moms who work and not dads, though.)
By focusing on education and behavioral outcomes, Lucas-Thompson’s study also addresses an issue that is at the core of the Mommy Wars: The idea that all moms who work outside the home are doing so by choice. “The debate about working moms is often conducted as if the only group affected were guilt-ridden high-income college-educated women,” Belinda Luscombe points out in Time. The reality is that, for many working moms — single parents, breadwinners, those with spouses who are in the military — staying out of the workforce isn’t an option. And the study found that children of single moms who work also fared better than those with moms who didn’t.
I think the real bottom line, though, is that doing what’s best for your family results in a happier, healthier family and a happier, more-fullfilled mom, working or not.