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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.

Published December 14, 2007. Last updated May 10, 2010.
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.

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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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