Throughout history women have been told what their roles must be, and usually that role was to sit at home, take care of the kids, cook, and clean the house. Luckily, the women of today have shattered that assignment, carving their own roles and building successful careers, while continuing to be kick*ss moms. There may be some concern as to the effect this has on children as they grow up, so it’s easy to wonder, "How does having a working mom affect your kids later in life?"
Cognitive scientist, author, and elected Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, Dr. Denise Cummins, tells Romper that the answer is nuanced. There are are quite a few different studies that have been done, but because family dynamics vary, it’s important to remember that impacts can differ, too.
There is, however, definitive research that shows that children develop their personalities at a young age, so what they are exposed to at that time can shape who they become later on. Cummins says that the most crucial period for a child is from birth to 3 years old, when their brain experiences enormous proliferation and pruning of brain cells when properly stimulated. “It is during this period that children are most demanding of adult attention,” explains Cummins, “and their personality development is most influenced by the people around them.” According to a study by the London School of Economics, noted Science Daily, children who go to day care or stay with grandparents at a young age may develop better social and communications skills because of their consistent exposure to other children and adults.
There are a few questions to consider when trying to understand the impact a working mom makes. Cummins says the first question is whether or not non-parental care impacts the emotional attachment between the baby and parent. She notes that a 2014 study from the journal Infant Behavior and Development found that among a case study of over a thousand 15-month-old infants, the strength of infant-mother attachment decreased as the time spent in non-maternal care increased.
The next question, says Cummins, is how non-parental care impacts children in the long run. She notes that in a study published in the Psychological Bulletin in 2010, researchers provided a meta-analysis of 69 studies investigating this very issue over the course of 50 years. Cummins says the study found two important results. The first result, she explains, found that infant day care during the first year of life was negatively associated with children’s achievement, whereas later employment (at age 2 and 3) was positively associated with achievement. The second result found that early day care is associated with better outcomes, but only for kids growing up in single parent, low-income families.
Cummins mentions that a much touted study is the Working Mother Study report, authored by Harvard Business School researchers Kathleen McGinn and Mayra Ruiz Castro and Elizabeth Long Lingo of Mt. Holyoke College. She explains that the study examined 50,000 families in 25 countries, and found that women who had been raised by a working mother had higher incomes than women whose mothers stayed at home full time. “Men's income was unaffected by whether or not their mothers worked outside the home,” says Cummins, “but men whose mothers worked outside the home were more likely to contribute to household chores and to spend more time caring for family members.” She adds, however, that the authors did not break out their results based on number of hours spent working outside the home, or the children's ages at the time their mothers were employed outside the home.
Honestly, there can’t really be a definitive measure to gauge the impact a working mom makes on her kid, because the variables in every family differ. For what it’s worth, both my mother and father worked full-time since I was a baby, and I turned out OK. My mother tells me that when she would come home from work, she would pick me up and not put me down until bedtime. So when she was home, she spent all the time she could with me, and we still have a terrific relationship.
If anything, having a working mother taught me that a woman’s role can be whatever she wants it to be, and it made me appreciate the dynamic of equals between my parents. All I can say for certain is that for any child, there’s nothing better than having a happy, nurturing, and confident mother as a role model, whether she chooses to work or not.
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