I was an employed mother of four (that’s right four!) preschool children. I know that when you are employed and the mother of preschool children, you feel guilty (and if you don’t, you feel guilty about not feeling guilty)!
One source of guilt for both mothers and fathers is the myth that in the past fathers were the sole support of the family, and if mom has to work now to help make ends meet … then maybe dad isn’t fulfilling his responsibility. In reality, the American family has always depended upon multiple wage-earners. Sometimes it was in the form of “unpaid” work by mother or children on farms or in small family shops, but if the extra income was from outside employment, then the children, not the mother, were the ones employed. In 1900, 26.1 percent of all male children and 10.2 percent of the female children between 10-15 years of age were in the workforce. As late as 1940, in families with more than one wage-earner, only 12.5 percent were wives, the rest were children living in the same household with their parents (Wandersee, 1981). I don’t know about you, but I refuse to feel guilty about working outside the home if it means that my children don’t have to.
Another source of guilt for working parents is the persistent notion that because of outside working time, our children are neglected during the day and receive substantially less quality time with their parents. In a comparison of the activities of children in quality child care and children at home during the working day, the at-home children spent most of their time watching TV while those in child care centers participated in learning games, social encounters, exploratory art activities, and lots of physically active play. Child care meals and snacks must meet state requirements and in general, were more nutritious than those of children at home.
As far as quality time is concerned, Dr. Sandra Wood Scarr, recently reported on research done with non-employed mothers who stayed home with one or more preschool children. During the normal workday hours (when an employed mother would be away from her children) the non-employed mom, at home with her children, spent most of her time on household or personal activities spending only 43 minutes of quality time specifically focusing on her children. Twenty of these minutes were spent watching TV together, 13 minutes eating with them and 10 minutes talking or playing specifically with them. This is a total of 43 minutes of quality time out of the working day! If you can find an additional 43 minutes of quality time each day with your child … why feel guilty? For years, it was expected that because working mothers were a change, children would suffer. Research, however, just didn’t support that expectation. Hoffman (1974) found that working mothers were more likely to have rules that encourage consistency in discipline and set limits. Gold (1978) found that children of working mothers are more likely to help with household chores and because of this they are better adjusted socially, more independent, more competent, and more responsible.
Your work will not ruin your children, but overworking your guilt might. The next time you are tempted to give in or give gifts because you feel guilty about working, just remember that an objective analysis does not show that working mothers have dysfunctional homes or deprived children. Instead, it reveals supportive and productive home environments, families with better living conditions and more learning resources, fathers with more time to spend with their children, and children who can delay their entry into the workforce and remain in school longer.
So, if you still feel guilty about working, you must enjoy guilt and you deserve a sleepless night!