It is one of the biggest debates we have as mothers and one of the biggest sources of guilt: How bad are working moms for their children? Will our children be scarred for life because we kept working after they were born. Or are children more resilient than we give them credit for?
The research is pretty grim. Children of working parents are more obese. They are more likely to act out and misbehave (Walfish says some of this is because guilty parents are permissive ones) and they face more health problems, including asthma and accidents. Jeez, Louise. Why would anyone work?!
As a working mom myself, albeit one who works entirely from home and tends to be pretty flexible, these are the questions that keep me up at night. I know seeing two parents have careers is good for my daughter, but what am I missing by not being the one who picks them up from school and who uses after school programs instead of picking them up right after the bell.
According to Dr. Fran Walfish, a child and family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, having a working mom can affect kids in a not-so-great way.
"The reason working motherhood is vilified is because most psychologists believe that children thrive best when they have a warm, loving parent at home with them, particularly during the first three years of life," says Dr. Walfish. "During the first year of life, the main psychological goal for the infant is bonding and attachment to Mother."
Oh, ouch. That hurts. As a mom who did stay home those first three years with my daughter, but who went back to working (from home) when my son was only two, this does fill me with guilt.
Of course, it's not all bad. Julia M. Helms is an assistant manager of business development at EuroMed, Inc. who recently graduated from college. As the adult daughter of a working mom, she has been fascinated by working moms and she and her mother recently started speaking to women's business groups on the subject.
"I am so lucky to have not one, but two parents who were proud of what they did every day, and never felt like my Mom’s job affected our relationship or her parenting in a negative way.," says Helms whose experience growing up has made her more committed to helping other moms continue to grow as women and nurture their potential beyond children.
And that's the whole idea behind working, isn't it? I feel blessed I had a "choice." I know not everyone does.
The fact is, working motherhood is a slog fest that can be very challenging. But it is not really experts who can say how children of working moms turn out. The REAL experts are the grown kids. So here are five moms who had moms who worked to say what really happens after growing up with a working mom:
- Mom's occupation: Lawyer and Professor
- Hours worked per week: 40
- What Emily is doing now: Senior Compliance Specialist with a small health plan based in Boston.
- How was school: Graduated from top private high school. Went on to top college. Earned a graduate degree.
- Ever done prison time: Nope.
- How you felt about your mom working as a kid: "My mother was/is a very strong role model for me. I was taught the importance of education and the importance of settings goals and working hard. My mother was able to do both what she loves doing (and is very good at) and to raise me with my father."
- So are you a working mom or a stay at home mom: "Now I am a mother and I work full time. My schedule will not be as bendable as my mother’s unfortunately. My daughter is at a wonderful day care center. I honestly believe that it is important for my daughter to see me work and to see what my education and hard work has done for me and what it can do for her."
Pam, 39, NYC
- Mom's occupation: Legal secretary
Hours worked per week: 40, plus overtime
What you are doing now: Editor and Publisher of TripleThreatMommy.com
How was school: NYU graduate -- "Somehow, she paid for my college full-on. I asked her how she did it and she said, 'I worked a lot of overtime.' Her working paid for my opportunity to go to good school -- So her working literally meant my future."
Ever done prison time: Nope.
How you felt about your mom working as a kid: "I feel like back then, my mom couldn't take time "off" to do school activities like volunteer in the classroom, or partake in class trips...Despite the fact that she worked in New York City and we lived in a NJ suburb, she still got home and was able to cook a fully home-cooked meal. I don't know how she managed to do it all."
So are you a working mom or a stay at home mom: "I always knew that I'd be a working mom as well. I've worked full-time plus for 15 years up until last year. But, I wanted more balance. I wanted more say in my life. I am now a social media and marketing consultant and blogger so I make my own hours, which allows me the best of both worlds. I can take my girls to their after school activities, participate in class trips and volunteer at school bake sales, but my daughters still see me working hard."
Amy, 42, Detroit
- Mom's occupation: Many; her first job was as a receptionist at a kitchen design shop; she worked her way up to designing kitchens. When she was 50 she got a master's in Information Systems, but I was already an adult when she did that.
- Hours worked per week: 40
- What you are doing now: Writing and pursuing a master's In social work degree.
- How was school: Went to well-regarded all-girls Catholic school, accepted to every college I applied to, let's just not discuss my undergrad career, and currently in one of the top 10 MSW programs in the country.
- How you felt about your mom working as a kid: "She was actually much happier when she worked and more fun. I remember loving to go visit her at work. I should add, too, that she was always really involved in the community before she went to work for pay so I was used to tagging along while she ran off newsletters or had meetings. Her working absolutely influenced my desire to work after I had kids also--and so far, like her, I get gloomy and fussy if my work is slow. I need both time with my kids and something just for me."
- So are you a working mom or a stay at home mom: Kind of both? I work at home so I do a lot of the SAHM stuff but also have deadlines and bosses.
Sara, 36, Ohio
- Mom's occupation: Supervising ticket agent for American Airlines.
- Hours worked per week: 40+
- What you are doing now: I'm the marketing director for the country's largest independent digital marketing agency.
- How was school: I graduated from private school, went to American University where I studied marketing and art history, and eventually to Ohio State for my MBA
- How you felt about your mom working as a kid: "I loved that my mom worked. I get like you could have it all - family, career, etc. She came to the important stuff like school plays and games and made it seem easy. I now reflect on how hard it must have been given that she was really pioneer for full-time moms. It made me strive harder and reach further knowing that is she could do it, I can do it."
- So are you a working mom or a stay at home mom: “I work full time.”
Ilicia Strasser, 37 , Wilmington DE
- Mom's occupation: Small business owner-and teacher as well as part-time associate at Talbots (later in life)
- Hours worked per week: 40
- What you are doing now: SAHM
- How was school: I did well in school all the way through-went on to grad school at Emerson after attending URI.
- How you felt about your mom working as a kid: "I was a ‘latch-key kid’ I don't even think kids are allowed to do that anymore LOL-from a very young age my brother and I either went to daycare or had a nanny-we always had to carpool with other families to activities, Hebrew etc. Growing up in a small town my mom was not far she just was not home-my dad worked a lot-that being said my mom was always at all sporting events etc. I wish that my mom had been more available but I'm very happy today that mom was always an independent strong women-she was a great role model."
- So are you a working mom or a stay at home mom: I am home with my children as we live in an area where we are on our own and childcare is very expensive.
It seems like everyone's experience is a little different, no? For the record, none of these women is obese or lonely or unable to have children because of scarring. How about we moms get of each other's backs? And to working moms: Stop feeling so guilty! Everything will turn out just fine.
Did your mom work or stay home? How did this affect you?