Forget the balancing act. Forget the exhaustion. Forget the cost of childcare. If you're like me, the hardest part of being a working mom is the guilt.
Of course, once you join Club Motherhood, your kids always come first in your heart and mind. But how do we handle the strain of juggling career aspirations, personal and economic goals and yes, the need for adult social interaction, and still let the kids know they're our first priority?
There's great news, say the experts. Working outside the home comes with more than just guilt—in fact, it can actually be good for both you and your child.
How Can Mom Working Benefit Children?
Let's count the ways—if not all working mother guilt comes from the sneaking fear that we're not giving our kids all they'd get if we were home. "First," says Dr. Susan Newman, social psychologist and author of Little Things Well Remembered, "we need to remember that our children don't know any way of life that's different from their own." What they know is what they're used to, and they simply adjust accordingly. That said, it's nice to know that there are ways your working actually benefits your children.
Encourages independence, responsibility
"Having a working mother can remind children to be their own people," says Dr. Newman. From a practical standpoint, kids with working moms are with adults who are not their parents for at least part of the day. This separation—the very kind we working moms feel guilty about—can actually breed a kind of self-reliance that improves self-esteem. Children with working moms get used to starting homework on their own; they may be expected to watch siblings or help with dinner preparation. The end result may be a sense of responsibility much deeper than the kind they'd develop without such independence.
For children, having two working parents can go a long way in shaping their understanding of men, women and families. Dr. Anita Ilta Garey, author of Weaving Work and Motherhood, is a sociologist and Associate Professor of Family Studies and Sociology at the University of Connecticut. "Studies have shown that both boys and girls have more egalitarian attitudes towards marriage, family and men and women's roles when their mothers were employed," she says. "We've also seen a connection between these kinds of attitudes and future marital happiness." This means boys may be more likely to have supportive attitudes toward the woman being equal in his future household. For little girls, the idea of achievement in a career outside of mothering can be stimulating, and encourage them to do the same.
Helps kids see moms as multidimensional
Social Psychologist Susan Newman shares her own story of working motherhood: "I once walked into a parent-teacher conference, and my son's teacher knew everything about what I was doing professionally. You forget that your kids are really proud of what you're doing." Seeing a mom as a working person often confirms for children the sense that people—especially women—are multidimensional. Best of all, their feelings of pride in your job well done can carry over into feelings about their own their self-worth and give them encouragement for their own possibilities for the future.
Exposes them to more children, more fun
Many working parents see the benefit of having caregivers who can offer more opportunities for socialization and a wider range of activities than they could at home. "I'm just not a 'crafty' person," says Trish Pierce, working mother of a two-year-old. My daughter gets to do art projects all the time at daycare. They have tumbling mats for gymnastics, hundreds of toys and puzzles, plus lots more kids than she'd be able to play with at our house."