Pop Quiz: How much guilt should working moms feel about time spent away from the kids?
d) All of the above
If you answered d, you would be correct.
This according to new research released this week from the Journal of Marriage and Family
"Over several aspects of children's lives, the sheer amount of exclusive maternal time, whether directly engaged with children or simply being there, had relatively little power, with no support for hypotheses generated from assumptions about intensive mothering."
In English: In the great cosmic scheme of things, the amount of time a mom spends (or doesn't spend) with her kids doesn't matter. At all.
Great News for Working Mothers
This comes as great news for working moms for whom guilt is a contact sport that should require protective gear.
But there's a caveat (isn't there always?).
Time doesn't matter... but stress does.
Supporting Quantity vs. Quality
So the very fact that a mother is not with the children doesn't have an impact; but the amount of worrying she does about it does. Time, inconsequential; stress, bad.
This quantity vs quality argument takes us back to the idea that it's not the choice a mother makes that matters; it's how good she feels about it. And clearly, that's not so easy. Consider a couple of other points from the study:
- "Mothers clearly do not easily live up to the expectations of intensive mothering."
- "In particular, employed mothers have a difficult time reaching this ideal."
- "Pressure to spend time with children makes many mothers feel strained, leading to negative consequences for mother's general well-being."
Research About Working Parents
All of this makes the Journal of Marriage and Family research the perfect companion to all the discussions that have been heating up since June when President Obama brought working families to the forefront at the White House Summit On Working Families
, and again in February when he stood before the nation at the State of the Union address and said this
We already know that family-related stress impacts well-being and poor well-being impacts jobs. Our research of thousands of parents backs that up. And after both of the President's speeches, pundits around the country pointed out why quality child care matters
for companies because parents who have it work better. Turns out, they parent better, too.
This should send a strong message to companies. Because once again, scientists have shown that no one particular type of balancing act wins the work/life derby.
But companies that help families have confidence about their own particular circumstances are the ones that will place at the top.