As my time approaches for a break from one job to another job – maternity leave to focus on my new baby for a bit – I found this demographic analysis on maternity leave, quality of parenting and parenting stress fascinating.
Are working moms somehow lacking as parents compared to stay-at-home mothers? According to a new demographic analysis from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the answer is a reassuring no. The study found that working doesn’t lower the quality of parenting overall — or even worsen the load of parental stress.
Researchers Pinka Chatterji, Sara Markowitz and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn looked at a broad set of family-based outcomes such as maternal health and mental health, parental stress and quality of parenting using data culled from the National Institute of Child Health And Human Development’s Study on Early Child Care (SECC). They also scored “maternal sensitivity” by observing parenting interactions in a laboratory setting to determine how well moms related to their children. They considered the mothers’ working hours, job flexibility, depression, stress, self-reported health and overall family well being, as reported by the participating women in telephone interviews.
Women with 3-month-old infants who worked full time reported feeling greater rates of depression, stress, poor health and overall family stress than mothers who were able to stay home (either because they didn’t have a job or because they were on maternity leave). No surprise there — juggling a new addition to the family and the added responsibilities that entails, in addition to professional duties, can stretch anyone’s mental and physical reserves. But six months after having a child, while working still caused greater depression among working parents than it did among parents with 3-month-olds — an increase of 10 weekly work hours was associated with a 3% to 7% jump on the depression score — logging full time hours at the office was no longer associated with a drop in parenting quality. In fact, over the first four-and-a-half years of parenting, mothers actually enjoyed an overall reduction in parenting stress if they worked.
How long did you take for maternity leave? Is the FMLA standard of 12 work weeks adequate?
Looking for information on planning a maternity leave? Read 10 Tips for Planning Your Maternity Leave
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