The M.D.: What science says about working moms, and what the heart says

Studies show little difference among children of working or stay-at-home moms. And that holds true when the well-being of the moms themselves is studied.

By Valerie Ulene, Special to the Los Angeles Times
February 13, 2012

If you ask my 10-year-old son, he’d tell you that I’m not a “real doctor.” His point of reference is my husband, David, a surgeon who usually leaves the house before 6 and works 12-hour days.

Most mornings, while David is at the hospital preparing for the operating room, I’m home making breakfast for our kids or packing lunches for school. In the late afternoons, while David is wrapping up office hours, I’m busy driving my son to soccer practice or overseeing his homework.

It wasn’t always this way. Throughout medical school and residency, I worked as hard — if not harder — than my husband. But all of that changed 17 years ago with the birth of my first child, when I decided to work less and mother more.

Deciding to scale back at work wasn’t easy. Like many women in my situation, I was torn. I wanted full-time work and full-time family; I didn’t want to sacrifice on either front.

And I didn’t know what would be best for my family and me.

So what’s really optimal for mother and child? It’s a question people have been grappling with, and psychologists have been trying to answer, for the last 50 years.

According to a 2009 Pew Center survey, 82% of men and women think young children are better off if their mothers don’t work outside the home or work only part time. They tend to believe that moms are better off too: 38% felt that the ideal situation for mothers with young children was not to work outside the home and an additional 44% thought that part-time work was the way to go.

As far as the science goes, here’s what we know so far.

Numerous studies have examined the effect of maternal work on children’s behavior and academic performance; others have looked at its effect on their physical and emotional health. The results of these studies have been inconsistent. Some suggest that children are more likely to have behavioral problems and suffer academically if their mothers work; others conclude that they’ll be just fine….Continue Reading

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