A report published by The American Psychological Association shows that mothers who maintain their jobs while their children are in infancy and pre-school years are happier and healthier than their more traditional stay at home peers.

Analyzing data starting in 1991 and spanning more than a decade, from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, lead author Cheryl Buehler, PhD, professor of human development and family studies, at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro clarified that :

“In all cases with significant differences in maternal well-being, such as conflict between work and family or parenting, the comparison favored part-time work over full-time or not working …. However, in many cases the well-being of moms working part time was no different from moms working full time.”

The article, published in the December 2011 issue of APA’s Journal of Family Psychology, included nearly 1,500 mothers who were interviewed after their child was born and in follow ups over the next 10+ years. Mothers employed part time appeared to have better overall health and less depression than stay at home moms, while general health and depressive symptoms were essentially the same in both full time and part time working mothers.

Interestingly, mothers employed part time had the highest level of sensitivity to their preschool children, spending time and providing opportunities for them to learn and grow. Obviously full-time employment curtailed a certain amount of attention to the children, but part time and stay at home mothers came in equal in terms of their involvement with their children. Perhaps the time away from the children gave the part time working mothers more appreciation of the time they did spend with them.

Part time work is clearly beneficial to the family unit and the study co-author Marion O’Brien, PhD, professor of human development and family studies, also of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, put forward the point that part time employees rarely receive the same benefits as full-time workers, and put forward the case that employers should consider offering similar benefits to part time workers in terms of health insurance, training and career advancement:

“Since part-time work seems to contribute to the strength and well-being of families, it would be beneficial to employers if they provide fringe benefits, at least proportionally, to part-time employees as well as offer them career ladders through training and promotion.”

The mothers who were involved with the study included :

  • 10 different locations in the US
  • Nearly a quarter who were categorized as part of ethnic minorities
  • 1 percent with no high school degree
  • 14 percent single parents
  • On balance 25 percent were part time employed (individual work habits varied but the overall number remained balanced)
  • Part-Time work was classified as between one and thirty two hours per week

The researchers recommended that in the future, more depth is required in the research to look at factors such as professional status, scheduling flexibility, work commitment and shift schedules. Caring for small children seven days a week can be very demanding, and it would seem logical that moms who get out of the house and into a more adult environment some hours per week and enjoy some level of job satisfaction, whilst obtaining a certain level of financial freedom for themselves, are likely to feel better about their situation and be able to pass a certain amount of that onto their children.

Actress Jessica Alba said in an interview with María Salas of TerraTV :

“I think [balancing work and family] is something that most women in this country can relate to. It’s tough. It’s a tough balance, trying to be the best mom. And obviously my family is my priority. And then also, I love what I do, and I love that I get to have a job that I enjoy so much and gives me the freedom to spend a lot of time with my daughter, frankly, and travel and everything else. But it is hard not to spend every second with her.”

While another actress Maggie Gyllenhaal said in an interview with Celebrity Baby Scoop :

“Growing up in Los Angeles, I was surrounded by plenty of working moms, including my grandmother, a pediatrician, and my mother, a writer and producer. This seemed very natural to me. I just thought, Well, that’s what moms do. They work and raise their kids. I was brought up to believe I could do anything I wanted professionally and, of course, be a mother at the same time … but I’m finding that it’s complicated. It requires a lot of thought and planning, and I haven’t figured it out yet.”

Obviously women who get back to work after giving birth fit more into their lives and feel the benefit of that. Of course, its a little unfair to make comparisons with millionaire actresses that have flexible schedules, nannies and a team of production staff to help them while they are working, but none-the-less, it seems even with all their advantages, they struggle to get the balance between motherhood and career perfect.

An article in salary.com pegged the compensation for a stay at home mom based on 2007 wage levels at nearly $135,000 per annum. It doesn’t always boil down purely to money, but perhaps if stay at home mothers were valued in society this highly, they might find more job satisfaction.

Bill Coleman, senior vice president at Salary.com, said in a statement :

Mom works multiple jobs and rarely gets a break from the action, working an average of 52 hours of overtime.”

According to the Salary.com survey, stay-at-home moms work a 92-hour week, with more than half the workweek spent in overtime. You have to wonder how many husbands compensate their baby mama’s at that level, even if they can afford it in the first place. Under that kind of pressure, its not surprising they feel happier and healthier handing the kids over to day care and enjoying a more down to earth day job.

Written by Rupert Shepherd