Study Shows Working Mothers Happier, Healthier Than Stay-At-Home Moms
Caring for children often feels like a full-time job, but a new study published in December's Journal of Family Psychology finds that moms who work report feeling happier, healthier, and less depressed than moms who stay at home when their kids are babies and preschoolers.
Furthermore, women who worked part-time fared the best, outperforming their stay-at-home counterparts, and in some cases, full-time working mothers, on measures of health and stress, the study revealed.
"Employment helps women and their families," said lead author Cheryl Buehler, a professor of human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Buehler, who was particularly interested in examining part-time workers due to the lack of research on the subject, focused on how work impacts mothers' well-being and parenting abilities in three main areas: sensitivity toward their children, involvement in their kids' schools, and opportunities for learning that mothers provide for their kids, such as books and enrichment activities like trips to libraries and museums.
"The data shows that part-time employment helps family life," says Buehler, adding that employers could help encourage more part-time working mothers by offering pro-rated benefits, training and opportunities for advancement.
The study, which examined 1,364 mothers beginning in 1991 when their babies were 6 months old and culminating when their children were fifth graders, observed the subjects over the course of 10 years on areas such as depression, health status, juggling work and family life, and parenting.
According to Buehler, "In a lot of areas, there was no difference in emotional well-being" between full- and part-timers, defined as working more than 32 hours a week and between 1-32 hours a week, respectively.
As was consistent with previous research, part-time working moms reported less work-family conflicts than their full-time peers, which is likely related to the fact that moms who work one hour a week are generally under less pressure to balance work and family life than those who work 32 hours a week.
Despite reporting more work-family conflict, full-time working mothers were able to cope well with the stress, with most reporting no increase in depression or health problems than part-timers.
The most significant differences were observed when comparing moms who didn't work at all to those who worked part-time, with part-time mothers overall being less depressed, in better health, more sensitive to their children's needs, and better able to provide them with valuable learning experiences.
It could be that employment helps improve social skills and increases awareness of what's going on in the community, which translates into their own parenting experience.
"It gives mothers tools, ideas, and strategies when raising a child," explained Buehler.
Part-time moms reported being as active in their kids' schools as moms who didn't work and, not surprisingly, were able to devote more time to family activities like trips to parks or museums than moms who worked full-time.
"Part-time employment is not such a time drain that moms don't have time to do other things that are important to parenting, and it's enriching their own lives in ways that enrich their mental health."
The key, of course, is to strike the appropriate balance between work and family life, and debunk the myth of the supermom, whose boundless, often unrealistic levels of time and energy, can feel overwhelming.
Instead, accept that you can't do it all and embrace the fact that making compromises is par for the course when it comes to parenting.
"You can happily combine child-rearing and a career, if you're willing to let some things slide."
After all, mothers are still only human.
[image via Getty]