Going back to work can make us working mums feel guilty enough – and the research blaming us for obese children and anything else they can throw at us doesn’t make it any easier.
But, thankfully, some researchers and University College London have been able to prove something a lot of us working mums knew anyway – that our children actually get a whole lot more out of us working than not!
The researchers found that despite previous studies have suggesting that mothers who work in the first year of their child’s life can cause problems in later years, there are NO major ill effects on a child’s social or emotional development if their mum works while they are young.
The researchers also found that the children of women who go out to work are no more likely to suffer behaviour problems â€“ in fact they may be better off!
They reached their conclusions by analysing data from the UK Millennium Cohort study, which has been following the lives of 19,000 children born in 2000/2001.
It contains data on parental employment when the children were infants, three years old, and five years old. The researchers compared this with social and emotional behaviour at three and five to see if the mothers’ work status had an effect on risk for problems later on.
“It is a positive message,” says principal researcher Dr Anne McMunn from UCL’s International Centre for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health.
“Mothers’ working doesn’t seem to have a detrimental effect on children in terms of their behaviour in their early years. Even looking at mothers’ employment in the first year, we don’t see any detrimental effect on children’s behaviour subsequently.
“If anything it looks like it’s going in the other direction. Mothers who aren’t in paid work are more likely to have [children with] behavioural difficulties.”
That’s great news – especially since 66% of UK mothers with dependent children are in work, according to the latest figures. Among those, full time working is growing – from 23% in 1996 to 29% at the end of 2010.
Although money can’t buy you love, it can buy better childcare. Non-working mums, Dr McMunn says, “are less likely to have educational qualifications, are more likely to live in poor households.”
It is a different situation for many working parents, she says: “These families are better off. They’re more advantaged in terms of their socioeconomic circumstances and they bring the other resources that come with having higher levels of education and also can afford more secure, dependable child care.”
Don’t feel guilty because you choose to work!
Dr McMunn says it is common for parents to feel bad about going out to work: “Mothers in particular feel a lot of that guilt. Even now they still do even though things have changed so much in terms of mothers’ employment.”
The most beneficial working arrangement for children is where both parents are living in the home and are BOTH in paid work. That’s independent of maternal educational achievement and household income.
Working mums set a better example to their daughters
The financial and education advantages appear to explain the benefits for boys, but the study found that things are different for girls: “Even once we account for the higher educational level, the higher income levels of working mothers, girls whose mother aren’t working are still twice as likely to have behavioural difficulties compared with girls whose mothers are working,” McMunn tells us.
While boys in households, where the mother was the breadwinner, displayed more difficulties at the age of five than boys living with two working parents, the same was not true for girls.
“There may be something else going on there in terms of gender roles, psycho-social messages that are being passed within the family,” McMunn says, “We can’t tap into those things in the study, so it’s really unexplained, a lot of this relationship.”
The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
If you’re a stay-at-home mum who has been empowered to go back to work, or a mum who wants a new job, visit workingmums.co.uk today.