Isn't this a case of much ado about nothing? To me, it is. Point out a time to me in the history of humanity when women weren't working. Incidentally, this takes me to a very interesting case where my nephew attended an interview for admission to Class I. The interviewer asked him, "Is your mom working?" The kid responded in a very matter-of-fact manner, "Yes." The principal came back with the follow-up question, "And where does she work?" Pat came the answer: "At home." So if that six-year-old could understand, why can't this adult world?
The fact is that everyone—men and women—has been working all through the various stages of social-economic evolution; the only factor that changes constantly is "where" they work. And that according to me should not be such a bone of contention in times when research has proven that working mothers have a positive impact on their children.
In all the studies, researchers observed that children of working mothers did better in reading, math and science.
Now, if we are examining the impact of a working mother on children, we must at the very outset acknowledge that the need to be together is as much a mother's as it is the child's. As I understand, guilt comes not just from leaving the child at home, but also from at times having to prioritise parental responsibilities over work. So the guilt trip is essentially the working mother's predicament and commitment. Analysis apart, going to work should not and cannot be equated with neglecting children. Guilt comes mostly when you yourself have seen your mom at home at all times. The issue has become so sensitive that even a benign comment causes guilt, not because someone says something to elicit it, but only because it is there already, as a part of your psyche. However, if you grew up with a working mother, your attitude would be drastically different. In fact, recent studies have found that children of working mothers hold them as role models.
Some of the longstanding myths that societies like to perpetrate have been completely negated by studies undertaken abroad, which have found that not only is there no developmental impact on children of working mothers, the strength of the relationship is also not compromised as long as the mother spends some quality time every day. The more important factors that contribute towards the child's well-being are the mother's personality and her beliefs—the quality of time, as against the quantity of time, that she spends with her child. Staying home is not the issue; staying with the kid is. It has been found to be true that more working mothers spend time with their children on their days off and they prefer to spend less time on household chores and other activities where the children are not involved.
As compared to their stay-home counterparts, working mothers are found to "differentiate less between sons and daughters in their discipline style and (also) in their goals for their children."
When talking about the working mother's impact on children we must also discuss how working mothers and stay-at-home mothers view discipline differently. Mothers who are full-time homemakers are more likely to use either a demanding or a lenient parenting style than those who are working, according to psychologist Lois W. Hoffman, University of Michigan, co-author of Mothers at Work: Effects on Children's Well-Being. On the other hand, working mothers are more likely to use an approach that relies on reason, trust and convincing rather than use of assertive parental power. As compared to their stay-home counterparts, working mothers are found to "differentiate less between sons and daughters in their discipline style and (also) in their goals for their children." Hoffman found in a study of 369 families, "Across social class, working mothers are more likely than full-time homemakers to value independence for their daughters."
Apart from this, psychologists have discovered that working mothers demonstrate more affection—hugs, kisses, and verbal forms of affection—towards their children than those mothers who don't work out of home.
An indirect impact of the working mother is the father's increased involvement with the family, as a result of which, daughters "do better on achievement tests, have less stereotypical attitudes about the competencies of men vs. women, and have a greater sense of personal effectiveness." In all the studies, researchers observed that children of working mothers did better in reading, math and science.
The debate on whether mothers should set out of homes to work and if at all it affects children adversely will go on forever, and we may choose to agree or disagree with what people and studies have to say. Nevertheless, it is difficult to ignore the contributions of working mothers. Their confidence and independence rubs off on their children in great measure. It is something to be celebrated rather than squashed under a guilt trip.