Are Working Mothers Happier Than SAHMs?

bfriedanI just read this article below from the NYT about working mothers. Studies have shown that working mothers are happier than stay-at-home mothers. Of course, I think that everyone has to find out what makes them happy. We’re not all the same. Choice also plays a part. According to the study, mothers who felt forced to work in a low paying job with no flexibility in hours were not happier working.

Upon examining my own situation, I’d have to agree with Betty Friedan: If American housewives would embark on lifelong careers, they would be happier and healthier, their marriages would be more satisfying, and (I have some doubts comparatively on this one) their children would thrive.

The first time I earned what felt like a lot of money for myself, I must have been about 10. I found an ad in a magazine for metallic social security cards. They were cheap and I thought adults would like one. So I went around town door-to-door asking people if they would like a personally engraved metallic social security card with their zodiac sign on it for $2 . I got a lot of takers. My mom still carries hers in her wallet.

At about 12, I started earning money babysitting regularly. The summer of 7th grade, I followed a trap and skeet shooting tour across the country with a friend and her mother loading and unloading the merchandise she sold. I also worked the trap lines loading the clay pigeons and pulling for the shooters in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for $80 a day. As a cashier at the local supermarket the summer I turned 15, I received my first official salary. For the next 3 summers, I waitressed at the beach. As a college student, I worked on campus monitoring the game room or checking IDs at the Athletic Center. In conclusion, from an early age I’ve always worked.

I started my first business with 2 Egyptian friends in Madrid when I was 24. It was a short-lived car pooling business that didn’t work out. But I was interviewed on the local news station and one of my partners went on years later to start Destinia, a successful online travel business. When I began my career in television production a couple of years later, I worked long hours and was highly engaged. I had found a good fit. I liked what I did and had fun with my colleagues. After 35, my focus shifted. I wanted children. At 37, I saw a fertility expert and after all the tests came back fine, we concluded that perhaps the ovarian surgery I had had at 21 affected my fallopian tubes. So we went the in vitro route, and I got pregnant with twins on the first round.

A year later, I realized that I had touched the roof at the production company where I not only worked, but was highly committed to as a minor partner. However, differences in vision prompted me to take some time off from working for the first time in my life. I thought it was a blessing in disguise. I was excited by the prospect of more time to take care of my much desired children and to oversee the construction of our first home.

The first year without a paying job was bliss. We lived in the sierra of Madrid in a big house with a big yard.

048 Kath & TwinsI welcomed my new life and responsibilities. The second year was stressful. The lack of sleep and the house construction was taking its toll. The 3rd year was probably the most stressful of my life. And not to overlook, it was 2008. 5 years later in this country, we are still suffering the major consequences of that  historical moment and the severe economical crisis to follow. This was probably the year when I was “less likely to report that (I) had smiled, laughed, or enjoyed (myself) yesterday.”*

Fast forward through stress, through snotty noses and ear infections, through diapers, through marital tension, through an identity crisis, to the present. Now I am the founder of ForDyslexia, a company dedicated to education technology. My twins are 8. I am making early literacy apps designed specifically for the needs of children with dyslexia.  I feel better than I have since that first year or 2 after becoming a mother. I am getting my smile back. And I often stop and think to myself, now I know why so many seasoned mothers tell you not to quit your job. But you have to go through it and decide for yourself. Or at least I did.

If I could go back and change my decisions, would I? Maybe. Maybe not. I tend to think that in another few years I am going to say to myself, thank god you took off that time when your children were young. Like planting trees, the first years are the most important. Once you get through that initial crisis and the roots have found their place, trees can pretty much thrive on their own.

Below you can read the article from the NYT which prompted this post.

*see article below

The Triumph of the Working Mother

By STEPHANIE COONTZ
June 1, 2013

thefemininemystiqueFIFTY years ago, Betty Friedan made a startling prediction in her controversial best seller, “The Feminine Mystique.” If American housewives would embark on lifelong careers, she claimed, they would be happier and healthier, their marriages would be more satisfying, and their children would thrive.

At the time, experts believed that a married woman should work only to kill time while searching for a husband or to fill time after the children had left home. A wife who pursued a career was considered a maladjusted woman who would damage her marriage and her kids.

Today, with almost two-thirds of married mothers employed and women the sole or main breadwinner in 40 percent of households, according to a Pew study released Wednesday, we can test these competing points of view.

Ms. Friedan wins on the question of whether working improves women’s well-being. At all income levels, stay-at-home mothers report more sadness, anger, and episodes of diagnosed depression than their employed counterparts.

And the benefits of employment mount over a lifetime. A recent multiyear study by the sociologists Adrianne Frech and Sarah Damaske found that women who worked full time following the birth of their first child had better mental and physical health at age 40 than women who had not worked for pay. Low-wage jobs with urgent and inflexible time demands do raise the risk of depression, especially among new mothers. But in less stressful low-wage jobs, mothers who work relatively long hours during the first year following childbirth experience less depression than those who cut back to fewer hours.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, a wife taking a job raised the risk of divorce. Today, however, a wife’s employment lowers the couple’s risk of divorce. Among middle-class Americans, dual-earner couples report the highest marital quality. Things are less rosy for wives who do not want to work but are forced to by economic necessity, especially if their husbands don’t pitch in at home. Such women have the least happy marriages in America.

Yet staying home doesn’t necessarily help, because financial distress is an even more potent source of marital unhappiness and conflict than it used to be. In a 2012 Gallup poll, stay-at-home mothers in low-income families were less likely than employed moms at the same income level to report that they had smiled, laughed, or enjoyed themselves “yesterday.”

What about the kids?

working-mom1

As more wives took jobs between 1965 and 1985, the time mothers spent with children decreased. But since 1985, both mothers and fathers have increased their time with children. Employed moms spend fewer hours per week with their children than stay-at-home mothers, but they spend more time with their children than homemakers did in 1965!

And fathers nearly tripled their amount of time with children. A review of nearly 70 studies in the United States finds no significant negative effects of maternal employment on the intellectual achievement of young children. And in low-income families, children whose mothers had stable jobs had fewer behavior problems than children whose mothers experienced job instability or who did not work at all, according to another study. In Britain, researchers who controlled for mothers’ education and household income found no negative effects of maternal employment for boys, while girls in two-earner families had fewer behavioral problems than girls in male breadwinner-female homemaker households. And a 2013 study of 75,000 Norwegian children found no behavioral problems linked to children’s time in day care.

Of course, Britain offers 52 weeks of maternity leave, 39 of them paid, while Norway, unlike the United States, has strict standards for day care. Also, the same review that found no ill effects of maternal employment on young children in the United States did identify some added risks for adolescents, suggesting that society would benefit from more structured after-school programs for this age group. And a 2010 study found that some children had slightly lower cognitive achievement if mothers worked 30 hours or more a week in the first 9 months after their birth.

So while Friedan was right in her counterintuitive claim that maternal employment could be good for women and families, she failed to foresee that the United States, which pioneered public education for all and was on the verge of establishing a comprehensive child care system in 1971 (before President Richard M. Nixon vetoed the bill), would by the early 21st century have fallen to last place among developed nations in supports for working families. While the average working woman might be better off, we need to offer better maternity leave and child care for those more at risk.

After 50 years, shouldn’t we stop debating whether we want mothers to work and start implementing the social policies and working conditions that will allow families to take full advantage of the benefits of women’s employment and to minimize its stresses?

Stephanie Coontz, a guest columnist, co-chairs the Council on Contemporary Families.

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About CoffeeWithKath

Passionate about Technology in Education and how it can make a difference in the lives of students with Dyslexia. Founder of @ForDyslexia. Mom of twins. Juggling entrepreneurship and kids.

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