You know, I always figured the question of who has it better, working moms or stay-at-home moms, was one of those unanswerable questions like which came first, the chicken or the egg? or if a tree falls in the forest and no one's around to hear it, does it make a sound? (I recently contributed to an eBook, Welcome to My World, in which the to-work-or-not-to-work question is debated, but not resolved.) But it turns out that, at least according to a new study, there is, in fact, an answer: Working moms have it better.
At the very least, according to this new study, published in Journal of Family Psychology, working moms are healthier and happier than stay-at-home mothers, who reported much higher rates of depression.
Moms working part-time as opposed to full time had it best of all: They reported less work-family conflict than moms who worked full-time and were just as involved with their kids' schooling as stay-at-home moms. (Lucky ducks.) Tellingly, the health and happiness benefits of having a job outside the home tend to taper off after kids started school.
I'm sure there are stay-at-home moms who will object strenuously (and vocally) to the results of this study -- the ones who feel it has been their calling and their pleasure to stay home with their small children. They, too, are lucky ducks. Certainty about your choice one way or the other -- to stay home or to stay at work -- has got to feel blissful. The fact is so many of us feel caught in the middle: confident in our choices one minute and totally, miserably unconfident the next.
But this study does much to reinforce the choice many of us make to continue working even after our children are born. Staying at home may be right for some of us, but it is clearly not right for all of us. We fantasize about quitting our jobs and taking care of our kids all day every day, but the truth is that childcare is hard work. It's not all laughing and happily stacking blocks and playing peek-a-boo, like in the commercials. And that has nothing to do with how much we love our kids and how much we love being with them. Staying at home, too, can feel isolating. And even acknowledging this to ourselves (let alone to each other) can fill us with profound guilt, compounding the problem.
Working can open up that world, giving us women with children a separate identity and interests and affording us daily help from family members, nannies, spouses, neighbors. It can boost our self-esteem and our sense of value and, as the study showed, our mood and sense of well-being.
So many of us work because we have to, but a truth that's harder to admit is that some of us work because we want to, as well -- that working helps us not only support our kids and meet their needs, but also support ourselves and meet our own needs, making us happier, healthier women.
What do you think of the study's conclusion that working women are happier and healthier?
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