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Finally, a study that doesn’t indict working mothers

By Alice Bradley

Are you a full-time working mom? If so, good news: you are not filled with regret. Congratulations!
As reported in this BBC article, “Mothers ‘are happier’ having job”, a UK research group studied almost 4,000 couples over the course of seven years. The survey yielded some interesting findings, the headline-making one being that working mothers are happier than the stay-at-home variety. (Specifically, they report higher “life satisfaction”; whether or not that equates with happiness is another matter.) Other insights: children do not increase the life satisfaction of men at all; children under the age of 5, in fact, have a negative impact on man-style satisfaction. 17 percent of men were more satisfied with their jobs than they were with their children. Women, meanwhile, were less satisfied with life when their children were between the ages of 3 and 5, but life got easier once the kids were in school. (Well, yeah.) Women without children were equally satisfied with full- or part-time work, whereas mothers were more satisfied when they worked outside the home on a full-time basis.
These results thrill me to bits, because now that Henry has turned five, I’m sure my “life satisfaction” will increase…any moment now. Except, wait, I’m not working outside the home. What if I write in the car? Will that help?
(Update: no.)
(Also mentioned in the survey was the finding that one partner’s health or employment status has “no statistically significant impact” on the well-being of the other. Really?! Those Brits, I tell you, they are cold.)
I can’t say the results regarding employment surprise me much, nor would I bet that they shock the working moms out there. Most of them know from experience that their children are not warped as a result of being taken care of by professionals during the day. There’s certainly something to be said for having your child nurtured and entertained by someone who’s being paid, unlike your sorry-ass self (and by “you” I mean “me,”) sitting there with your (my) head in a book while you (I) occasionally nudge the car seat back and forth and hope the baby thinks he’s having an adventure.
Of course I could be reading into this a bit. But seriously, as a working-from-home-kind-of mom, the few days I got a babysitter because I had to put on clean pants and lipstick and leave my home to talk to clients were (and are) among the happiest days of my early motherhood. As an adult, I like talking to adults. And not wiping someone’s ass for a few hours at a stretch. This is surprising?
And you know what? I’ll tell you what. I’m also not amazed that women are more satisfied with full-time work than they are with part-time, because part-time means you’re also expected to perform all the drudgery of the SAHM, only you’re not getting paid for that part. You’re pulled in different directions and everyone thinks you’ve got it easy, because you’re “only” working a few hours here and there. These researchers should have just talked to me.
Anyway, the study is a nice contrast to countless other studies, including the one also written about on the BBC site, which features the same photo as this one: “>”Money worries ‘force mothers to work’.” According to this study, men are “more committed to breadwinning,” (!) and over forty percent of working mothers would prefer to stay home. A 2006 government survey seems to support these earlier findings, finding that more mothers said they would rather spend time with their children than work longer hours. The only reasonable conclusion one can reach from these conflicting studies is, of course, that women are lying liars.
Or! Perhaps it might be that women give the responses they think researchers want to hear, or that they can’t distinguish between what they want and what society wants them to want. It’s hard to admit that sometimes you’re happier when you can be away from your kids for a while. Working mothers still feel guilty that their careers are important to them. There are certain antiquated notions to which we cling: Children are the light of our lives; women would rather nurture than achieve; when children grow up and leave us we wither away.
No one can be that surprised that, in fact, people aren’t all that happy when their kids are small. Children are hard work. They’re a financial burden. They cause you to sleep less and yell more. They don’t clean up after themselves (not well, anyway), they often pee on the floor, and they will gladly puke into your waiting hands—and not even apologize for it.
So why do we keep having them? That’s the study I’m waiting for.

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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  • StellaDevine

    December 14, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    Oh, Alice, you have hit the nail on the head as always!
    So why do we keep having them? I think it’s because, as you said earlier, we can’t distinguish between what we want and what society wants us to want. Whoops, I think I just alluded to the fact that I don’t really 100% love being a mother and a lot of the time I would rather have my old life back. Please start hating me now!
    Which brings me to my next point, that if you happen to say out loud that being up to your elbows in someone else’s poo is NOT the most fulfilling thing that’s ever happened to you, you get an immediate diagnosis of PND. It’s not a pathology, folks, it’s a perfectly reasonable reaction to an appalling set of circumstances.
    But there you go, I’ve twittered on again, when I have my own blog for my more long-winded thoughts.

  • Elizabeth

    December 14, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    I don’t know about you, but a baby will save my marriage. Because, you know, a baby takes away all the stress.
    (As sarcastic as I’m being, I’m horrified to admit that I know several people who used this logic.)

  • Sarah

    December 14, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    The only way I can ever make sense of all those studies and my feelings and the feelings of friends is that we generally want what we don’t have. Working women say they’d LOVE to stay home and SAHM say they miss working. It’s just hard to balance all those things we are supposed to be and what we want to be and still feel like we are doing a good job in the end…ahhhh the paradox of motherhood.

  • ozma

    December 15, 2007 at 4:29 am

    I realize I should comment on the content of the stories but what else can one say but those kind of studies are lame excuses to foist some kind of ideology on women? Of course I will now use this as an excuse to complain about my life. My job (which is supposed to be a career job, not a job job) is probably killing me. As in, shortening my life span. I had brief interludes of taking care of my child all day instead of working and it seemed amazing and magical but perhaps this is one of those things you can’t win.
    When I first had a baby, I did my work and took her to daycare and was so proud and pleased with myself that it was all working out and I had proved those naysayers wrong as well as not seen my own terrors come to fruition. (She did not explode from the neglect, seemed happy, etc.) Each day it gets harder, though. For both of us.
    Another thing I’ve discovered is what work does to my body isn’t conducive to having more children. I’ve wrecked my health with stress and waited too long after being told by people at work that I’d better not have a second child. And this was a rather high price to pay. There’s no alternative though. My husband would be unable to support us.
    I wonder if studies in the U.S. would be different. What they would never conclude is that what a lot of jobs ask of people in this country is soul-crushing and unjustly ignores the human need to have a family and a life. They’d just talk about what women supposedly want but can’t have–as if this is just nature’s way rather than society’s way.

  • SuburbanCorrespondent

    December 15, 2007 at 10:21 am

    Because the little ones are really cute and newborns smell so good. In short, we get suckered in. Repeatedly, in my case.
    Of course, men are less happy when their kids are under 5. Their wives are too tired to make them happy.
    And, personally, I wouldn’t mind being out of the house full-time; it’s the working I would hate.

  • jeanine

    December 15, 2007 at 10:22 am

    I love these studies. Evaluating and quantifying women’s satisfaction with work and/or with child-rearing and with the various combinations thereof. So easy to measure! And I have complete faith that the questions these studies/surveys/etc. ask MUST be exhaustive and totally conclusive. How about this: some women are more satisfied working and some women are more satisfied staying home. Given room for standard deviation or whatever that’s called, does this about sum it up? Like you said, Alice – they could have just asked me, too.

  • Sonja

    December 15, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    We keep having them because they are very cute. I say to my children several times a day: “It’s a good thing you’re so cute.” If babies were ugly, I don’t think many of them would make it to the one year mark.

  • Liz B

    December 16, 2007 at 9:16 am

    A 2006 government survey seems to support these earlier findings, finding that more mothers said they would rather spend time with their children than work longer hours.
    Well, DUH. When my maternity leave was up, I could not get back to work fast enough. Being home all day with a small baby was driving me absolutely batshit nuts.
    But I still love her, and I would definitely rather spend time in the evenings with her than work “longer hours.” I want to work my 8 hours, then come home and spend time with my child before she goes to bed. I do not want to work 10 hour days so I can only see her sleeping. How stupidly phrased was THAT question?
    Also, I am some kind of genetic mutant, because I enjoyed my child’s company much more after she got to be 2 or so. Babies are adorable, but I don’t really like having them around for more than half an hour or so (says the 8 1/2-months-pregnant woman). It’s not until they’re walking and talking that I really get bitten by the “oh they’re so CUTE!” bug.

  • Michele

    December 16, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    Actually there was a scientific study that said that babies and children are biologically designed to be cute so that their mothers paid more attention to them. Here’s the link:
    Which only sort of answers the question why do we have kids, it actually only answers the question why we do not kill our kids, but it’s the best I could do in Peru with a shitty Internet connection.

  • Heidi

    December 17, 2007 at 12:35 am

    You know, I’ve done both. I’ve worked outside of the home when I had one child, and now that I have three children I stay at home (because frankly, I would have to give them any future children as payment for daycare for all three of them). And you know what? It was SO MUCH EASIER to be a good mom when I was working.
    I think it’s because you only see them for like four hours a day. I’ve got that much patience in my little toe. I could do crafts, play games, let them help me load the dishwasher–all without losing my cool.
    Now that I’m at home all the time–eh, not so much. I can lose my temper over my kids not getting in the car fast enough. It’s the constancy of the demands of mothering that make SAHMs go CRAZY!
    But why do we keep having them? I’ll wait for the study. But by then, I might have seven kids!

  • Jennifer

    December 17, 2007 at 4:59 am

    Hang on a second while I finish laughing.
    This was hilarious, as usual. I sometimes read those studies to see if I’m supposed to be happy and satisfied with my life (or not). Sad, isn’t it. I work full-time from home and my kid goes to nursery school. It’s a pretty sweet deal. Especially if you consider that it is now 11am where I life and I am still in my pjs. But I’m going to get dressed by noon, because that’s about when the cute new mailman shows up and he might have something I need to sign for. And if not, at least I’ll be dressed for when I go pick my son up.

  • Celeste

    December 17, 2007 at 11:31 am

    Me, too! Me, too! I like working better than being at home all day with my beloved child, too! And I like to come home in the evening and be with her, because she’s fun. And I’m having a second child because I like motherhood the way I have it. And I’m so thrilled to know I’m not alone.

  • anna

    December 17, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Oh hell yeah. I love being a mother, but I really love being a working mother with really good daycare for my child. I’m now pregnant with our second, and will confess to both being grateful for, and dreading, those first few months of stay at home motherhood, before v2.0 also goes to the really good daycare.

  • caramama

    December 17, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    These studies! Give me a break! In addition to factors you said, it is subject to how researchers word the questions they ask and how they interpret the answers. Because they do interpret based on the researchers’ own bias, consciously or not.
    I am so happy to be working out of the home, but I would not like to work LONGER hours. In fact, I wish my work day was a 6 hour day–with or without my kid waiting for me at home. And babies/young kids are definitely hard work! I feel like I work all weekend, too, just doing a different job.
    Thanks for sharing this, Alice, and once again giving me a laugh. I hope your car was at least warm inside.

  • Lisa C

    December 17, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    I actually do enjoy being a stay-at-home mom. It’s the most difficult, yet most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Somedays I have to step on the back porch, breathe deeply and count to ten before facing the hooligans. But other days, I have so much fun painting with them or playing at the park that I can’t imagine doing anything else.
    I must say that my house is constantly a disaster and we eat a lot of pizza. I also feel like a failure in so many ways, because I’m not a professional. I’m just trusting that my time will come.
    (I DO tend to REALLY like kids, though, and I was a full-time nanny before I was a mom.)

  • Selfmademom

    December 18, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    You hit the nail on the head with your comment about part-time work. I currently work part time out of the house and it’s sooo not working for those reasons exactly. Everyone thinks I get the “best of both worlds” but really, I’m expected to be an SAHM and a committed coworker. Brilliant insight!

  • chaotic joy

    December 27, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    I thought this post was fantastic. It’s not a bit surprising to me that they can find women to support whatever supposition they are trying to prove. If you ask me on Wednesday morning if I am happy being a Stay at home mom I might respond that there is no where I would rather be, if you ask me that same Wednesday at 5PM I would gladly pay you to allow me to be a full time working mother. Or for a drink. Motherhood is hard. Doing it full time without getting to leave the house or talk to adults besides the gymboree chick or the grocery store cashier can sometimes make me dissatisfied. Less than happy. Sad. But if I worked full time would I miss my children? Absolutely. It always amazes me that they think we need studies to spell this all out for us.

  • Kate SEO Mum

    January 8, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    I admire women that can stay at home and get fulfillment out of looking after the children full time, but I think being a stay at home mum would drive me crazy. Better to be a working mom than a crazy mom I say!