To work or not to work after having children: it's a subject that's been debated over and over again. What's best for the kids? What’s best for women? And wait, what's best for you?
According to a recent study by the American Psychological Association of over 1,300 moms the happiest moms are, perhaps unsurprisingly, those who work part-time.
Full-time working mothers were equally well-off on several important levels, though. Both part- and full-time workers reported better overall health and fewer symptoms of depression than those who stayed at home. The working groups also showed no significant differences in terms of personal perceptions that their jobs "supported family life, including their ability to be a better parent," the study's authors said in a press release.
As for why they might be happier, the authors theorized, "a mother's participation in employment provides her with support and resources that a mother who spends full time at home does not receive."
If that's the case, then where did the part-timers edge out over the full-timers? Well, they were more involved in their children's schools, which makes a lot of sense. And, relative to both full-timers and stay-at-homers, they were more sensitive with their pre-school children, and they able to offer more learning opportunities to their toddlers.
Both groups of working mothers reported better overall health and fewer symptoms of depression than those who are full-time mothers. When that news broke earlier this week that working moms were effectively happier than the stay-at-homes, the blogosphere responded with the lengthier and more articulate equivalent of "duh."
"For anyone who's ever stayed at home all day with young children, none of this may come as a surprise," wrote Deborah Dunham for Blisstree. "I tried attending the neighborhood play groups. Boring. Like, do women really want to sit around and talk about which brand of diaper is best or what their baby's poop looks like? Really? Just shoot me (or give me a large glass of wine. Or both.)"
Not so fast, others pointed out. Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon cautioned everyone to consider the timeline of this study "before we bust out the champagne and breast pumps." She noted that the 10-year research period began in 1991 and that quite a few things have changed since then.
"It’s fair to ask whether contemporary working moms, whose companies have been radically downsized and whose bosses may well expect them to be fused to their BlackBerries 24/7, are quite as serene as their Clinton-era counterparts," she wrote.
Another key point Williams noted was that the study focused on part-time working moms -- which was defined as anything from 32 hours a week to just one.
Amber Doty, who blogs for Babble, pointed out that while working full-time is great -- and what she has personally chosen to do -- it can come with some nagging guilt. And, this sort of guilt may even be specific to moms. In March, a study found that women feel guiltier about taking work calls at home after hours than men do.
Then again,another study found that a woman's happiness at work depends on how much she wants to be working and especially on the quality of her job. The stay-at-home moms who preferred to be at home had equally low depression levels as the moms who preferred to work and had high-quality jobs. As for the moms who didn’t want to work but had jobs? Well, so long as it was a good job, they were as well off as the two other groups.
On top of that, a mother’s outlook on her ability to balance work and life matters, and an August study found being realistic about what's possible is essential.
In other words, working moms get to interact with supportive grown-ups, and that's a good thing for their mental health. But, if they don’t like what they’re doing with those other grown-ups and they wish they were at home with their children, then it doesn't hold up. And, if they think they won't have to make sacrifices, that creates even more of a mess.
Any sort of evidence that shows flexible schedules benefit families could be considered good news, but there's one major caveat: most companies haven't caught up yet.
"It is likely that many mothers (and probably some fathers as well) would elect to work part-time," the authors wrote, "if this status were recognized by employers as a legitimate approach to building a career while maintaining a healthy family life."