Working moms aren’t holding kids back — it’s the lack of fathers

Written By kom nampuldu on Minggu, 05 April 2015 | 18.18

Working mothers, rejoice! You no longer need to feel guilty for not spending more time with your children. Indeed, according to a new study, the amount of time you are with your them actually has no bearing on their academic achievement, behavior and emotional well-being.

Pass the merlot, please.

But before you believe all the cheerleading by feminists like Brigid Schulte of The Washington Post and Amanda Marcotte at Slate, you might want to read the fine print. The new study, out in the April issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, does not actually look at children between birth and age 3. If you've spent any time around working mothers, you'd realize those are the ages when moms are most upset about their absence from home and when, not coincidentally, children most seem to long for their mothers.

What the study does show is that what mattered for children between the ages of 3 and 11 was not how many hours children spent with their parents but what those hours were spent doing.

Laura Vanderkam, whose forthcoming book, "I Know How She Does It" chronicles the way that successful women balance work and family, says, "I think it's what we find with most things on parenting. Within a range of middle-class, reasonably educated norms, it doesn't much matter what you do. Your kids are going to turn out fine."

She calls this "the paradox of parenting literature. Parenting books can all be blank. By simply buying a parenting book, you've indicated that you care about doing a good job. And that means, more likely than not, that your kids will turn out to be productive, law-abiding citizens."

The more time teens spend with both of their parents in family time like around a dinner table, the less likely they are to use drugs or engage in other risky behavior.

Good educational and health outcomes for children are correlated strongly with family income and mother's level of education, according to the authors of the Marriage and Family Study.

But this wasn't always necessarily the case. In his new book, "Our Kids," Robert Putnum writes that, no matter their economic background, more kids used to receive important kinds of interaction and nurturing from their parents. He says, "This used to be equal across the classes, but today you have to be a rich kid to hear your parent read you 'Goodnight Moon' at bedtime."

What changed? Why did poor mothers do bedtime routines and dinner back then but not now?

For some, no doubt the answer is that 60 years ago, there were many more stay-at-home mothers. You didn't need two incomes to make a living. And those mothers could devote the time and energy needed to have family dinners and "Goodnight Moon" time — the kind of quality interactions that actually do affect child outcomes.

Yet even working-class mothers in the 1950s who had jobs outside the home were much more likely to have these important interactions, according to Putnam.

Photo: Shutterstock

Why? Because they were married.

The difference between rich and poor mothers in America today is not that the difference between working and staying home. It's the difference between being married and not. Almost half of moms with high-school diplomas but no college degrees are unmarried. That's more than triple what it was in the 1970s. For the upper class, though, the number has hardly budged.

Putnam acknowledges the great disadvantages of the single-parent home, though his proposed solutions are largely about improving the economic situation of the poor or changing the communal environment in which they live rather than their family structure.

But this new study reinforces the importance of the traditional family model. Having two parents means first that there is more money coming in to a household. But it also means that parents are not as stressed (the authors of the study note that spending time with parents who are overly anxious or sleep-deprived can actually have a negative effect on children). It means that routines are more easily kept — even if one parent is away the other can ensure dinner and bedtime are largely the same from one day to the next.

The one time the study showed that the quantity of time with children seemed to matter was with adolescents. The more time teens spend with both of their parents in family time like around a dinner table, the less likely they are to use drugs or engage in other risky behavior.

Is this simply because two-parent families are wealthier? Perhaps. But one suspects there is also something about the dinner interactions when two parents are present. They are calmer and more controlled. The parents are modeling the ways that adult relationships should be conducted. All of these factors provide teens with a solid foundation in what might seem like a turbulent time in their lives.

Moms don't need to stay at home full-time to provide this benefit. And they also don't need to pull in a big salary. What they do need, though, is a partner.


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