New Study Says Working Moms Are Redefining What A “Good Mother” Is

According to some refreshing and comforting new research, both married and single working moms said they found more fulfillment (and gained self confidence) in paid work than in parenting – and this is an essential reason why they do not stay at home with their children. This is nice to hear in light of a study that came out earlier this week that said female breadwinners were wrecked with guilt over being away from their children all day and jealous of their stay-at-home husbands’ relationships with their kids. Study author Professor Karen Christopher,  an associate professor of Women’s/Gender Studies and Sociology at the University of Louisville, said, “About one-third of the 40 employed mothers expressed some ambivalence or guilt over their employment, but most employed mothers justified their paid work by saying it made them more fulfilled people, in addition to better mothers. So, these mothers are not only reframing what good mothering entails, they also frame employment in ways different than do earlier studies of mothers.”

More mothers are working now than ever before. According to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, record numbers of mothers are working full-time despite having a child as young as six months old. There are 2.25 million women, whose youngest or only child is under the age of four, who have a full-time job. There were only 1.9 million in 2003.  About 23% of wives now out-earn their husbands, according to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center. And this earnings trend is more dramatic among younger people. Women 30 and under make more money, on average, than their male counterparts in all but three of the largest cities in the U.S.

Survey respondents said they enjoy their careers but also place limits on how much they work so that they can remain connected to their children. Many women sought out jobs (even high-powered professionals, such as lawyers) with employers who would not demand that they work overtime or nights on a regular basis. Several women stressed that they only work “reasonable” hours. For example, Jana, an African American nurse with one child, said that she was unwilling to trade in her eight-hour shifts for 10-hour shifts and receive overtime pay. At the same time, whether they were married or single, African-American or white, lower, middle income, or higher income – almost all of the mothers interviewed said they wanted to work.

But the study found that mothers with male partners still perform about twice as much child care and housework as their partners. In addition, Prof. Christopher suggests that inflexible workplaces and inadequate public policies are constraining North American mothers’ (and fathers’) ability to combine employment with involved parenting. The research looked at women from both Canada and the U.S., as well as women with different racial/ethnic backgrounds, class and marital status. Most women in the study were born between 1970 and 1985. Prof. Christopher interviewed 40 working mothers, each with at least one child under the age of 5; over half the women had two children.

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