Reality Check: What are your feelings about mothers with young kids who work? Does it affect the kids? If so, how? Do you have a positive, negative or “so-what” attitude about the whole issue?
Just when I thought moms had finally called a ceasefire to their infamous “Mommy Wars.” Surprise! Last week every media outlet alerted us to their new battle plans. It seems the rift between working and stay-at-home moms is further than it’s ever been in the last decade.
The finding came from a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. They analyzed the responses of 414 moms with kids under 18 with 457 in 1997. Ten years ago moms were almost in dead agreement 38% of at-home moms compared to 39 percent of working moms that it was a bad trend to work outside the home if you had young kids. Ten years later the pendulum is shifting: 44% of at-home moms say it’s bad; 34% of working moms say it’s bad; and 34% say it’s good. The attitude of most moms is that working part-time is ideal (say 60% of working moms and 48% of at-home moms today vs. 48% of working moms in 1997 and 39% in 1997).
[USA Today, July 12, 2007]
So what causing the new rift? A few factors seem to be at play here. First, employers are demanding more of workers. Parenting has become even more intensive (which fuels those mother- guilt feelings even more. You know, if you don’t mother 24/7 you must be a terrible mom). And finally blogs and chat rooms where women can “let it all out” are cited as contributing to the Mommy Polarization.
But what does the research say on how this all impacts kids? Let’s look at the study by Stanley Coopersmith from the University of California at Davis. His book, The Antecedents of Self-Esteem, is my favorite from my doctoral days spent devouring child development research. In the 1960s this renowned child development expert wanted to find out why some kids have higher feelings of authentic self-esteem.
Coopersmith and a research team conducted a fascinating long-term study of over 1760 middle-school age students. All kids were given self-esteem inventories to determine levels of self-esteem. Next, the researchers zeroed in on their parents. Was it parental family income, education, parental religion, IQ, genetics, employment, whether moms worked or stayed at home that affected these kids’ perceptions of themselves?
Seven years later the researched discovered that those variables had little to do with the children’s self-confidence. What did? Four critical parenting factors appeared essential: 1. warmth and acceptance in the home; 2. less permissive environments; 3. opportunities to be listened to and heard; 4. strong adult role models who had strong self-esteem themselves.
That last item I think is key. How our kids turn out has a lot to do with what we model.
If we model strong integrity and have healthy self-esteem our kids are more likely to have those traits as well — regardless of whether we work, stay at home or work part time.
Each mom makes a personal decision to work or not to work based on what she feels is best for her family. It’s often an agonizing choice and one that research finds generally creates a big chunk of maternal guilt. Certainly every kid needs a secure, safe home. But next to that every child needs a mom who is confident, self-assured, and calm.
The best hope is for those outcomes is for our country, political leaders, employers–you name it–to start supporting moms – in the workplace and at home. In ten years (since those two surveys were given) little has changed. I work around the world and am ashamed as to how much more support mothers around the globe receive compared to us. The future lies in how our kids turn out – and it starts by prioritizing families. Meanwhile ladies, can we please start supporting each other?