Do Working Moms Raise Healthier Kids?

If you’re a working mother like me, you may have noticed a few raised eyebrows from time to time. I was only five weeks postpartum when I had to go back to my work as an OB/GYN physician, and you’d have thought I had murdered my infant the way some women looked at me. (“How dare she? How selfish of her. But just wait – that child will be totally messed up one day.”)

Here I am, five years later, raising a perfectly healthy, happy, secure, loving, confident daughter. And according to a recent study(link is external), I’m not the only working mother raising a well-adjusted child. The study set out to examine often touted theories(link is external) that children raised by families with two working parents exhibit more bad behavior and that working mothers are more likely to raise overweight children(link is external). What they found can let all of us working parents breathe a sigh of relief.

As it turns out, not only do working moms not harm their children. The evidence suggests that they’re actually better off when both parents work!

I’ll never forget leaving my then four year old daughter at the airport when I was heading off on my book tour. She was sobbing. I was sobbing. My husband was trying to pry the two of us apart, and my heart felt like it was breaking. We reunited a week and a half later in Boston, and then I had to go back on the road without her for another week. I called her soon afterwards and she said, “Mommy, I’ve been crying for three days (I had just left an hour earlier.) I thought for sure I was doing permanent damage to my child, and I seriously wondered if pursuing my own dreams were worth it.

A little secret

Then, a few months later, the daughter of a very famous female author came to stay in my guest house. She is one of the most charming, beautiful, witty, smart, healthy, well-adjusted, twenty-somethings I know, and her mother spent the better part of her childhood jetting off for repeat appearances on Oprah while her daughter cried at airports. So when my daughter asked me to come play with her and I had to say no because I was about to lead a teleseminar, I breathed a sigh of relief when the daughter of this famous author leaned into Siena and said, “Darling, let me let you in on a little secret. I know how you feel, but I promise – everything’s gonna work out just fine.”

This daughter with the famous mother told me that it was hard when she was young. She sometimes wished her mother would stay home and bake cupcakes like the rest of the mothers. But as she grew older, she came to not only tolerate but appreciate the role model her mother has been in her life.  As working mothers, we may have to pry our baby’s arms off our necks or wind up pumping – or weaning – because we just can’t keep nursing or miss the occasional school festival because we have a board meeting. But we offer up a potent message to both our sons and our daughters. Women have dreams too. Moms have something to offer the world outside the home. And when it comes time to have their own children, they will remember that their mother worked, pursued her dreams, and served out her life purpose, and they (and their wives) can feel free to do the same.

Type A Moms, Chill Out Please

If you’re one of those mothers committed to doing everything you can to ensure that you raise the smartest, healthiest, most well-adjusted kid on the planet, even at the expense of your own needs, please – with all due respect – take a chill pill. This study does not mean that stay-home mothers who lovebeing stay-home mothers need to go out and seek gainful employment outside the home. If you love being home with the kids and the intuition of your Inner Pilot Light tells you that’s what’s best for your family, by all means, stay with the kids the way my mother did.  Throw the perfect birthday party. Home school your children. Bake cookies. Flip flashcards. Go to amusement parks. Coach the soccer team.  Attend every ballet class. And put your whole heart into it.  Go for it. I fully support your inner wisdom’s ability to make choices that are best for you and your family.

But if you’re one of those women who sacrificed your career dreams because you thought you might harm your children if you kept working, you might want to rethink your choices. You living out your own best life just might turn out to be the best thing you ever did for your children.

Do What’s Right For YOU

The moral of the story is that whatever makes you happy, healthy, and whole will benefit your kids. If that means staying home, stay home. If that means going back to work when your child is a month old, go to work, and trust that your child is more likely to wind up well-adjusted if you are. On the flip side, if you resent your children because you had to put your dreams on hold, they may feel that – and act out.

In other words, don’t fake it for the kids. Don’t play martyr or pretend to be something you’re not. Be authentic. Express your true self. Live your dreams NOW. And model that for your children.

Speak Your Truth

What do you think? Are children of stay-home mothers happier and healthier? Should you sacrifice your dreams to be with the kids? Is it selfish to be a career mom? Or might we be benefiting our children by being good role models as we pursue our own dreams? Tell us what you think!

Committed to raising a healthy child – and following my dreams too,