This Whole Working Mothers Are Happier Thing

6 years ago

Last week, one of my favorite bloggers wrote a post for babble, basically kicking anderson cooper in the teeth for reopening a debate it seems that women have worked tirelessly to get beyond ... Who works harder? Working mothers or stay at home mothers? and Dr. Drew (who i usually have a lot of love for) also had a show that also addressed the question of stay at home vs working mothering.

Can I just back up a second and point out that both shows are tackling this topic because a research study recently came out that was published by the American Psychological Association and whose press release is titled (to the surprise of many) that "Working Moms Feel Better than Stay-at-Home Moms, Study Finds."

Ok, so because I work in academia, I know that in these scenarios, we have

  • the actual study itself, which is written by the researchers; 
  • the abstract or summary of the study, also written by researchers; 
  • a press release, probably written by a PR person who may or may not fully understand the study and only read the abstract, but wants to get it some attention; 
  • the articles written about the study by journalists, who may or may not have even read the abstract, let alone the study, and are also interested in getting attention; and 
  • the news network people who only read the article the journalist wrote and are by now three degrees of separation away from the actual study itself (anderson cooper and dr drew, this is where you come in).

So because I'm a geek and get annoyed when drama is needlessly stirred up, I went back to the study that spawned the sensationalization. and I read it. Because honestly? I think that the issues of staying at home and working are important ones that I'd love to know more about. and not just from an emotional viewpoint ... from a research-based one.

A few pieces I thought were worth noting that didn't make the talk shows:

  • the actual title of the study is "Mothers’ Part-Time Employment: Associations With Mother and Family Well-Being."

  • the study was seeking to look at not just working moms and stay at home moms, but the part-time working moms (which are often neglected in this type of research). a central question of the study was whether part time working mothers were a distinct group, or whether the data  indicated that they were more like the stay at home moms, or more like the working moms.
  • part time work was defined as working from 1 to 32 hours per week. (so if you personally have an etsy shop or blog from which you get income, but spend less than 33 hours on it per week and are mostly a SAHM, this study would have considered you a part-time working mom. if you are a SAHM, but watch other people's kids for a few hours a week for pay? you also count as a part-time working mom.)
  • the study focused on a variety of outcomes that not only included child outcomes (i.e. "what's best for the kid?") but also the family and mother's well-being (i.e. "what's best for everyone in the family?"), as well as analyzing the conflict/facilitation between work and family life for working mothers. much like the part time working mother, this has not been the focus of earlier studies.
  • the study followed over 1,300 mothers, spanned over 10 years, and looked at mother's employment at seven different points throughout four stages of a child's development. past studies had only focused on infancy through 1st grade. specifically, this study sought to evaluate whether there was more conflict between work and family at certain stages of a child's development.


The overall conclusion of this 10 year study that followed 1,300+ women and their kids? That there are some serious benefits to having mom be employed part time. Here's the quote:

In all cases where there were significant differences in maternal well-being, conflict between work and family, or parenting between part-time employment and either no employment or full-time  employment, the comparison favored part-time work. Mothers working part time reported themselves to be less depressed than stay-at-home mothers in their children’s early years and to have less  work-related conflict than those working full time. With regard to parenting, mothers working part time were observed to be more sensitive in interaction with their preschool-age children than other mothers, to provide more opportunities for learning, and to be more involved in school activities than mothers employed full time.

I thought that was pretty cool, to find that there seems to be a bit of a sweet spot somewhere in the middle, with part time work. I think that it completely jives with what our culture is currently doing. Even SAHMs are finding ways of doing a little part time work on the side, even if that work is just blogging about their family and selling add space. Even that little side job allows her to step outside of mommy land and interact with other adults, as well as procure value in an economic marketplace.

To find out that working part time is good across all the variables? Good for mom, good for kid, good for work-family balancing?? This is definitely something that our generation of mothers should sit up and take notice of, since our grandmothers' generation were all SAHMs, and our mothers' generation were often working moms, maybe we can stop the crazy pendulum swing and hit a sweet spot for our own families. At least that's what I'm taking away from this really well-thought out 10 year research project.  

read the full APA journal article here.

As a post script, I'd like to point out a few things that totally defused the whole mom wars issue that network "news" seems to want to drag back up ....

#1. Our cultural definition of SAHM and working mom are not the ones used in this study. so before we freak out and turn on one another again, we should ignore the network hype and head back to the source--who is this study really referring to? Because you might be surprised to find out that while you thought you would be classified as a stay at homer, that babysitting you do one day a week makes you a part timer.

#2. Why do we let men get us so pissed off at eachother? Seriously ... the two network shows looking at this study are hosted by MEN. I don't want to get all down on the guys, because I still have a soft spot in my heart for both anderson and dr. d ... but at the end of the day, let's take notice that quality women's programming isn't dragging this bs to the surface. let's not let them push our buttons.

Credit Image: Ron Sombilon Photo via Flickr


ann blogs at and tweets from @mylifeasprose.

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