Whether your resume reflects the title or not, women are generally CEOs. We oversee human resources, finances, operations, the transportation department, and much more of one of the most dynamic organizations in the world- the home. In the 21st century, women remain in charge of the largest portion of home responsibilities and care taking of family members.
However, approximately three-quarters of American moms with children at home are also employed–often making the balance of demanding job responsibilities and school plays and soccer practices difficult to juggle. Playing into this balancing act is mommy guilt and the voice of never being enough.
As a working mother of three, a son and two daughters, I am well aware of the voice that contributes to the ‘you’re ruining your children’s lives’ mantra. As a researcher, author, and speaker, my mission is to empower and inspire women to lead with purpose, which causes me to travel frequently. Thankfully, my children are old enough where we discuss my schedule and work responsibilities. Recently, during a conversation with my 14 year old daughter, I asked if it bothered her that I was gone often. After thinking about the question for a second, she responded, “No, it doesn’t. I know you’re working to make a better future for women, including me, so i’m proud of you.”
Despite that familiar voice telling us that our absence is somehow inadvertently harming our kids (and we potentially start saving for our children’s future counseling fund), mounting evidence demonstrates that having a working mother has social, economic, and educational benefits for children of both genders.
Data from the International Social Survey Program, which asked adults whether their mothers were paid for work performed outside the home at any time before they were 14, was used in 2015 by the Harvard Business School to analyze the impact of working moms. The study, which analyzed data from 50,000 adults in 25 countries, found that daughters of working mothers in all countries finished more years of schooling, earned higher salaries, and were more likely to be working in managerial roles. Mothers of sons spent more time with their respective families on domestic obligations such as housework and child care, although their careers reportedly weren’t impacted (possibly because men are, for the most part, socially expected to work).
In the United States, some of the effects were shocking–daughters of working moms reported an average income 23 percent higher than daughters of mothers who stayed home (after controlling for demographic factors). Adult sons spent nearly twice the amount of time on housework and childcare when their mothers were employed.
According to Kathleen McGinn, Harvard Business School professor and an author of the study stated that the “working mother effect” combats the mommy guilt, saying, “Part of this working mothers’ guilt has been, ‘Oh, my kids are going to be so much better off if I stay home,’ but what we’re finding in adult outcomes is kids will be so much better off if women spend some time at work.”
Although the outcomes have been met with some criticism, McGinn said dozens of tests were run to see if the results were influenced by something other than the mother’s time at work (such as a mother’s increased income or the overall culture being more supportive of women working)–but they were not. Even after controlling for factors like family composition, age, and education, McGinn stated the difference was still significant. Despite the opposition, studies are shifting away from focusing on whether working moms are negatively affecting their children and instead looking toward a deeper understanding of work and family dynamics.
McGinn concluded, “this is as close to a silver bullet as you can find in terms of helping reduce gender inequalities, both in the workplace and at home.” Ultimately, the decision that works best for your family is the right one. However, if you’re a mom who works outside the home, hopefully this helps quiet your inner critic.
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