It pays to work in more ways than simply in dollars. When parents engage reliable, nurturing caregivers, working doesn't have the negative effect on preschoolers that many believe.

A UK study reported in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Healthevaluated 12,000 young children at three different stages-infancy, age three, and age five. Ann McMunn, the lead researcher, concluded that a mother's job does not harm children's social and emotional behavior. The finding should be comforting for parents who worry that their absence will affect their young children's development. If anything, having a working mother was a benefit.

The most beneficial outcomes for boys and girls were seen in homes with two employed parents; their children exhibited the least emotional and behavior problems. The results were independent of a mother's education or household income. Working mothers, whether they work because they need to or because they want to, can relax and enjoy both their "roles."

This post is not meant to ignite the Mommy Wars, but rather to reassure working mothers and that includes some 64 percent of mothers who work and have children under age six. The study and earlier ones are convincing in concluding that sons and daughters will not suffer emotionally, socially, or have more behavioral problems than children who have stay-at-home parents. It could be that a working mother's income helps reduce the family's financial stress. That in turn, creates a happier, calmer atmosphere for growing children.

McMunn and her colleagues also discovered that daughters with moms in the workforce had better outcomes than sons. One reason might be that working mothers may portray a model of action and discipline for daughters to emulate.

7 Ways Working Parents Build Bonds with Their Children

The results certainly encourage women to put aside the guilt they feel about the hours spent away from their children. However, today many working parents are tethered to their offices by technology and feel they have little time to bond with their children. Here are ways for mothers and fathers to carve out the time they need for their youngsters and keep connections to their children strong. 

  • Make it a priority to find caregivers who create a safe, secure environment. It is equally important that the caregiver's values and expectations for your child are similar to yours in terms of expected behavior and that he or she follows the rules and boundaries you set.
  • Keep your work-home boundaries secure by asking a boss what his expectations are for you to respond to e-mails and alerts when you are at home. Ask him or her to mark electronic requests urgent when necessary and emphasize that you will handle demands as soon as you can.
  • When you are home, be present and attentive to your children. Be sure to listen and pay attention to what they tell you.
  • Make the time you spend with your children, no matter how short, sacrosanct. That is, avoid work related phone calls and messages, interruptions, and other distractions in the special time you reserve for them.
  • Don't try to make up for your time away by being extra indulgent or feel you have to be a constant playmate.
  • That said, rituals such as reading a book together or having a young child set the table while you prepare dinner will establish and build traditions you share. Young children like routines even if they take only a few minutes because they foster a sense of family.
  • Remind your child that you love him and that he is very important to you. Make it a practice to say, "I love you," a few times a day.

Copyright 2011 by Susan Newman


McMunn, A., Kelly, Y., Noriko, C., & Bartley, M. Maternal employment and child socio-emotional behaviour in the UK: longitudinal evidence from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, January, 2011.

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