There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to motherhood. While some parents dream of staying home to care for their kids, others chafe at the thought of trading desks for diapers full-time.
A quick note: Dads can (and should!) be just as involved in raising their kids and making decisions about who will handle daily care. But because mothers are more often the ones expected to put careers on hold while kids are little, this post will focus on them.
How Many Mothers Work?
The Department of Labor reports that about 70% of women with kids under 18 are in the labor force. This isn’t a new development, either. Since around 1980, more children have grown up with a working mother than a stay-at-home mother. Plenty of families still choose to have a parent stay home if family finances allow it, but it’s most common for mothers to work, either by necessity or by choice.
Why Do Mothers Want to Work?
One of the weird double standards about parenting is the assumption that mothers must want to stay home with their kids if possible. No one would dream of suggesting fathers didn’t love their children as much, but dads just don’t get hit with the same questions about their decisions regarding balancing career and parenthood.
Here are just a few real, worthwhile reasons you might have for being a working mom:
- My family depends on my income
- I like my job and coworkers
- I want to use my education outside the home
- I get lonely and stressed staying home with a baby all day
- I value the contribution I make in my career and don’t want gaps in my resume
- I want to set a career example for my kids
- I believe daycare will help my child meet developmental and social milestones
- I’m financially supporting my partner, who stays home with our baby
How Do Kids Respond in Working Families?
Research suggests there are some advantages for kids growing up in families where both parents work. Daughters in particular seem more likely to work outside the home themselves, earn more, and have more leadership roles, according the research from Harvard Business School. Sons tended to grow up to spend more hands-on time with their own kids, and an extra 25 minutes a week on household chores (it’s a start).
Children who grow up with multiple regular caregivers have a chance to develop bonds with adults they can trust. Your baby still loves you more than the daycare provider, but it can be a good thing for him to know he’s taken care of even when you’re not there.
In past decades, some parents worried that daycare would lead to behavioral or academic challenges. Research hasn’t shown this fear to have come true. It’s important to evaluate daycare options carefully, but a reputable childcare facility can be a nurturing, warm environment.
Balancing Work and Home
All of the above still doesn’t mean finding that work-life balance isn’t challenging! Career and family responsibilities combine into a substantial load of responsibilities. Here are a few strategies to make the most of your time:
- Enlist your partner’s help. If you have a spouse or partner, keep open communication about balancing domestic tasks. Men are often raised with fewer expectations about how much household work they should do, or how to manage the mental work (remembering toothpaste, scheduling pediatrician appointments). A supportive partner who can take on a fair share of labor gives you more time for your share of meaningful parenting and leisure activities.
- Make family time count. Quality, rather than quantity, of time makes a big difference to kids. Put your phone aside and find activities you and your child can enjoy together.
- Encourage your kids. Even babies love to copy, mimicking work calls with a plastic phone or reaching for your laptop keyboard. Daydream with your kids about what they’d like to be when they grow up, or praise your little one for doing something herself. Seeing your influence as a role model for your kids can reaffirm your decision to be a working parent.