Families today no longer fit the stereotypical model highlighted in 1950’s television shows with a dad leaving for work each morning and a mom at home raising the children. Today’s family arrangements are more varied:
- stay-at-home moms,
- stay-at-home dads,
- single parents heading their households,
- and dual-career families, to name a few.
No matter their working status, though, mothers typically feel that they have the primary responsibility for nurturing their families. This article is dedicated to those women who are not only holding down the home front but also working at a job or a career.
Moms Working Outside the Home
Are you a mom employed outside the home? full-time, part-time, occasionally?
The Current Research
- According to Pearson Education, 62.1% of women in the US are working within one year of having a baby. Being a working mom includes many benefits such as:
- enjoying a fulfilling career,
- maintaining independence,
- keeping job skills relevant,
- getting a break from home responsibilities,
- and earning extra income.
Additionally, Healthychildren.org reports that in homes where the mother works, all family members play a more active role in caring for one another and the household. Children are more likely to help and look after each other, and fathers are often more active participants in chores and child-rearing.
A study from the Academy of Social Sciences demonstrates no differences in behavior, literacy, or math skills for children whose mothers work as opposed to those whose mothers stay home during the first years of their lives, assuming that the child-care is of high quality.
A 2006 study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has examined child-care and family features and experiences for children who spent ten or more hours per week in the care of someone other than the child’s mother.
The results for children up to age 4½ show that in general, children who spend time in quality non-maternal care fair similarly and sometimes better than children raised at home by their mothers.
For example, children in high-quality child-care have better cognitive development through age 4½ and more pro-social behavior through age 3. There is an increase in aggressive behaviors for children in non-maternal care after age 3, but study authors state, “Features of the family and of children’s experiences in their families proved, in general, to be stronger and more consistent predictors of child development than did any aspect of child care.”
So now you can let go of any guilt you may have been feeling about using child-care.
A Juggling Act
All that being said, being a working mom requires a fair amount of juggling and balancing.
- Is it a challenge to get out the door in the morning with bottles packed and no food on your clothing, or with book bags containing lunches and completed homework?
- How about running from a long day at work to the baseball game or dance class, and then coming home, making dinner, giving baths, and helping with homework?
- What about when one of your children is sick and your entire day or week gets thrown for a loop?
- Do you fill their schedules with extracurricular activities so they won’t realize you’re not there at the end of the school day?
- And because you want the time that you have with your children to go smoothly, are you reluctant to set limits when you are together?
- How do you find time to enjoy your children and your partner and still get time just for you?
The key is to figure out what works for your family. The answer will be different for everyone but will likely involve making choices.
The first one is to realize that to have it all and truly be a happy family, you can’t do it all. That doesn’t mean you can’t work and have a satisfying home life for all members of your family; it just means that you can’t do all the things that an idealized, “perfect” mom may do.
Tips for Balancing It All
Store- bought treats for sports practice or school events are perfectly acceptable. If your kids don’t want to be in the kitchen with you while you prepare a treat, then maybe you buy the snack. Instead of spending your time baking, you can use that time to take a walk or ride bikes with them.
You might make some meals on weekends and reheat them during the week or even buy prepared meals. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, more Americans want to feel like they prepared dinner for their families but don’t have time. Voilá!
Food companies have everything you need for a gourmet meal in a box and all you have to do is assemble it.
Cleaning your house
You may be able to give your bathroom a once-over with disinfectant wipes on a regular basis instead of a top to bottom cleaning, or you may decide to hire someone else to clean weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.
You don’t always have to be there to drop your kids off or put them to bed. You may alternate with your spouse in the mornings or evenings so one of you can get in a workout or an occasional night out.
Many women think they have the best of both worlds because they work part-time from home. This may mean working during children’s naps and after the kids go to bed. If you find yourself hoping your child sleeps longer or goes to bed earlier so you can finish that project, you might need to add some child-care.
This can mean hiring a babysitter who stays with your children a few hours a week, additional time at preschool or daycare, or even a mother’s helper to play with your children on the weekend or after school.
It is important to be on the same page as your spouse. Does one of you have busier times when you are less available but then picks up more responsibilities during slower times? It is important to discuss this in advance so you have a plan; that way, last minute surprises don’t become crises.
While no one wants to be gone all day and then have to fight with children after arriving home, having firm household rules will make things easier in the long run. Rules that are regularly enforced may cause some distress in the beginning but ultimately should result in fewer arguments and provide children with needed structure and security.
Couple-time and Mom-time
When you are gone all day, you often want to spend your free time with your children, and you should. However, children bring additional stress into a marriage and couples need to nurture their relationship by spending time together without their children.
It is also important to build in time just for you. Taking care of yourself makes you feel better. You will have more patience and you can share your better mood with your children, making you a better parent.
A Parting Thought
So what is the take-home message for working mothers? Don’t feel guilty. Your children are not being harmed and, even better, they can see that Mom and Dad can have fulfilling careers while still being good parents. But remember, to have it all, you can’t do it all. You need to figure out where to cut back in order to make the most of your personal, couple, and family time.
By Lynne Unikel, Ph.D, Parenting Educator
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