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?” “At home”, pat came the answer. So if that 6-year old could understand, why can’t this adult world?

The fact is that everyone – men or women – have been working all through the various stages of social-economic evolution and the 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.

With the emergence of the knowledge-service economy, women found their way out of homes to add that extra buck or more often than not express themselves. As the world transited from being an agrarian to an urban society, the ‘working mother’ was looked down upon as someone who was unnecessarily trying to compete with the men. Gradually men as fathers, sons, brothers and then as spouses started to appreciate this superwoman of a human being for doing the impossible – running the household and the office both and with great élan. The age-old expectations of women – that of primarily being a mother and only then a social being – across the world – loaded on to her unusual expectations of herself.

If we are examining the impact of the 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 from leaving the child at home; guilt also comes when the working mother chooses to be by the side of her sick child leaving work behind. 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. So every moment of disparity makes either your mom or you vulnerable in the guilt context. The issue has become so sensitive, that even a benign comment, causes guilt, not because someone says so but only because it is there already, as a part of the psyche. On the contrary if you grew up under the wings of a working mother, your attitude would be drastically different. In fact, recent studies have found that children of working mothers are quite in awe of them and hold them as role models. (ALSO READ What is the right time to send your child to a preschool?).

With the guilt around the corner, decisions on the needs of the children could become tainted with defensive overtures which will not augur well for the mother or the child. What the working mother needs to ensure is that the child experiences enough rich interactions that allow language and emotional development to take place and that the television does not take over the job of baby-sitting.

Studies completed by the American Psychological Association (1999) and the University of Texas (2005) attempting to ‘find the impact of working mothers on children’, did not find any developmental problems in children whose mothers worked outside the home. Dr Aletha Huston, the director of the research conducted by University of Texas states, “The mother is an important source of care, but then she doesn’t have to be there 24 hours a day to build a strong relationship with her child.”

Some of the long standing myths that societies like to perpetrate have been completely negated by these valuable studies undertaken abroad. On the basis of their sample studies, they conclusively declare that infant development is not delayed when a mother works outside the home. In fact, 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. In most cases, it was found that children showed ‘no significant negative impact in social behaviour, cognitive abilities and language development whether mothers stayed at home or worked’. The studies also go on to suggest that in some cases where they did see some anomalies; they disappeared in due course of time.

When talking about the working mother’s impact on children we must 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 the assertive parental power. As compared to their counterparts that prefer to stay home, the 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 academics – 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, we all agree that working mothers do have an impact not only on their children, but everyone who forms a part of their lives. But to feel and propagate that these women must feel guilty is not done. No matter what the world has to say, working mothers feel a sense of empowerment; their confidence and independence rubs off on their children in a great measure. Since they are holding jobs, deep down they know that nothing can go wrong – they will not only rise to the occasion but rise with the occasion.

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