Reprieve For Working Mothers – New Study Unveils Positive Impact on Child Development

Researchers at Columbia University in the U.S. have confirmed what rational mothers and fathers already knew: it’s the relationship we develop with our kids and the happiness of the family unit that counts the most.

The research included 1,000 children ranging from birth to age 7, and considered a number of different factors: vocabulary, reading, academic tests as well as family characteristics. Teachers and parents also rated the children’s behavior.

Jane Waldfogel, co-author of the study, commented on the consequences of a mother returning to the workplace, “In reality, lots of other things change the minute she goes out to work, including the quality of childcare, the mother’s mental health, and the relationships with the family and the household income. We’ve examined all of these.” While the study did find that some infants raised by full-time working mothers scored slightly lower on cognitive tests, the positive effects of working mothers offset the negatives.

The outcome of this study is in sharp contrast to prior studies, namely the 2008 UNICEF research, which concluded that mothers who went back to work before their child’s 1st birthday were “gambling” with their child’s development. A similar conclusion was reached by an earlier study from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University in the U.K.

My blog, Career Women Make Bad Mothers, highlighted a number of the positive effects working mothers have on their children, which have also been confirmed by this latest research. What’s most interesting about this recent study is the acknowledgement that children are also impacted by the family dynamics – i.e. a happy family makes a happy child. Let’s consider some of the other positive effects of women pursuing their careers after childbirth.

Fathers Benefit

Dads can benefit by mothers working as they feel less pressure in providing economic security for the family. Perhaps it affords them the flexibility to make different career choices. They also are able to improve their work-life balance as they are more involved with the children in order to support the mother’s career. The Boston College’s Center for Work & Family reported that today’s dads equate being a good father with’ being there’ and spending time with their kids, rather than just being the breadwinner.

Mother-Father Partnership Benefits

Sharing the responsibility for financial security as well as the family’s well-being results in mothers and fathers appreciating the role of breadwinner as well as parent. Neither role is particularly easy, but understanding first-hand what’s involved makes each partner appreciate the contribution of the other.

Had I not had a career, I couldn’t have fathomed why my other half had to work such long hours. (Brilliance doesn’t happen between 9-5.) Having worked hard to further my own career, I understand all too well what it takes to be successful. Conversely, had my other half not actively participated in the upbringing of our children, he couldn’t possibly have understood the mental challenge of dealing with two-year old tantrums or teenage mood swings.

Mothers Benefit

Women can benefit enormously from a challenging career, bringing back to the home energy, enthusiasm and relevant skills such as problem solving, strategic planning, and resolving conflict just to name a few. I would also argue that it’s this switching back and forth between the two environments which keeps you fresh and invigorated and enables you to bring patience and perspective to each environment as a result of stepping back.

Organizations Benefit

While many professions have an equal or larger intake of women at entry level, the number of female professionals falls dramatically at the senior levels. Certainly one explanation for this decline is the number women who do not continue with their professions after starting a family. Organizations need gender balance in order to ensure sound decision making, innovation and alignment with customers’ and shareholders’ interests. Organizations benefit when professional women return from maternity leave and continue to contribute to the growth and sustainability of the business.

Don’t wait for another study to come out to determine whether you are making the right choices for your family. Use your common sense. Be logical. Know yourself and take decisions with confidence. Everyone benefits when women happily combine career and family – women benefit, men benefit, children benefit, and your profession benefits.

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