Banish the Guilt – How mums who work benefit the whole family

Banish the Guilt – How mums who work benefit the whole family

Mother guilt - shutterstock_89221888‘I feel so guilty; I feel I’m being selfish putting my career needs first’ Sandra confided to me in a coaching consultation. As mums, whether we’re working or contemplating returning to work, guilt seems to come as part of the territory.

This guilt comes in many guises: the fear of harming our children with our choice to go to work; the fear of damaging our relationship with our children; the fear of making the wrong choice over childcare; the fear of not having enough time with our children.

If we’re not careful these fears can paralyse us from taking any action.

But is this the whole story?

One way to quell these fears is to consider the facts.

In ‘Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All’ Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober describe a wealth of research that debunks many myths about women and work.

They found that families thrive not in spite of working mothers, but because of them.

The mother of all mothering studies

Meers and Strober describe a study in the US which wrapped up in 2006 after 15 years of research on 1,364 children looking at the impact of childcare on child development. The conclusions were unambiguous:

Children with 100 per cent maternal care fare no better than children who spend time in child care. And child care in this study included all types of non-maternal care, from nurseries and day care settings, to babysitters or nannies.

As one summary put it ‘there is no reason for mothers to feel like they are harming their children if they decide to work’.

Quality not Quantity

The study’s key message is that as working mums childcare is not the thing to worry about – how we parent is. The BIG news in this study was that the amount of time mothers spend with their children was not that important – it was the quality of the interaction that counts.

The study found that how we behave as parents influences our child’s emotional, behavioural and cognitive development at least two times more than any form of childcare.

So we need to focus on finding the best quality childcare we can and being the best parents we can.

Happy mum = Happy child

To return to Sandra’s dilemma, if we ignore our own needs for growth and development due to these unfounded fears, this can potentially be more damaging to our children than if we heed our instincts and make our career dreams a reality.

The same study found evidence that if you stay home full time when you would rather be working or if you work full time when you believe it is harmful to your children, your unhappiness may affect your behaviour and how well you relate to your children.

So honouring our own beliefs and values, and creating a fulfilling career, helps us to be happier and better parents.

Work is good for health

Choosing to work not only makes us happier mums, it can also make us healthier. Numerous studies have found that women who work enjoy better physical and mental health than their nonworking peers.

Here in the UK researchers found that women who had been wives, mothers and workers were significantly less likely to suffer poor health than women who did not play all three roles.

Moreover women who worked were less likely to be overweight than women who rarely held jobs. So work is equally beneficial to your waistband as it is to your pocket!

Work is good for our relationship

Having our own career satisfaction makes us better partners. By being intellectually challenged and having more varied interests we are able to better support our partners because we are fulfilled in our own work and have had our own rewarding experiences outside of the home.

Working also allows us to share the responsibility and take the pressure off our partners to be the breadwinner and provides greater economic security and flexibility, especially in these uncertain economic times.

Equally our working can lead to a more equitable sharing in the responsibilities of raising a family. The US study on child development found this pattern: when husbands do more childcare, wives report greater ‘marital intimacy’. Equally another study showed where husbands do more housework, the odds of getting divorced are lower.

Work is good for our children

Our children benefit from having career mums and dads. Dads tend to be around more when we are working or travelling. Our children benefit from this separate source of patience, wisdom and energy.

And as career mums we have a bigger tool box of skills to deal with the challenges of child rearing. We also have more confidence to deal with issues head on because we are used to working in this way.

We also become good role models for our children as they grow up. By showing that it is possible to combine work and family in a positive way we’re shining a light on a path that our children can follow.

How about you?

What benefits have you experienced as a result of combining work and family? How have you dealt with any feelings of guilt? Please share your experiences in the comments box below, I’d love to hear them!

P.S. Need some help negotiating a new career path alongside motherhood?

Take a look at my ‘There’s More in Me’ career coaching programme. You can fill in the form there and then schedule a FREE consultation to get some clarity on the situation you are facing.

Guest blog written by Hilary Lees of Essence Coaching :


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