Why mum’s decision to go back to work is great for the kids

Over the years I’ve heard several women and quite a few men fuel the fire of motherhood guilt by claiming it is better for the child’s development and well-being that mums stay home and forfeit their careers for a time.

If you are feeling motherhood guilt, fret no more. Now there is a body of research that demonstrates the benefits of mothers returning to the workforce after having children. One research study in Denmark assessed children up to the age of 15 years and demonstrated that children of women who work do better at school than children of women who stayed home[1]. Another US study across 25 developed countries[2] found that daughters of working mothers are better educated and earn more, and their sons spend more time looking after children and doing housework when they become fathers. They also concluded that male support at home that encourages women to participate in the workforce may lead to more stable marriages.

Women interviewed in Career Interrupted – How 14 Successful Women Navigate Career Breaks (Melbourne Books, to be released in October 2015) all agree that juggling dual responsibilities as a mother and career woman is extremely difficult but is also the most rewarding time in their life. They fervently believe it is critical for them to be role models for their children. Jodie Sizer, founder and partner of PwC’s Indigenous Consulting practice, sums it up when she says: Some mums say to me: “How can you do it? How can you work?” I almost feel like saying to them: “How can you not?” To realise your own potential and to do something really meaningful in the short time we have in our lives – why would you not want to do that?” Lucy Roland believes it’s important for her girls to see her enjoying work and succeeding, as well as being a good mother and a happy, independent person in her own right. She says she “wants her girls to develop their own independent lives, choosing and pursuing work they love rather than being dependent on the stereotypical “male as the breadwinner”.

These women also talk about how they use their time at the office more productively. That’s not surprising when you think about it. As Ambassador Adamson (Australia’s Ambassador to China) quipped in Career Interrupted: “There’s nothing like the visual image of a child standing, nose pressed against a window at seven o’clock at night, waiting for you to walk in the door, to make sure that you finish doing what you’re doing.’ The latest EY Pulse research also supports this conclusion, indicating that mothers working flexible hours are more productive than men and women in full time roles.

Returning to work after the birth of a child is not for everyone. Each woman needs to make her choices with their family about how long to take off work and if indeed, they want to return to the workforce at all. However organisations that provide the flexibility and a supportive culture which gives women real choices will reap the rewards – in improving the bottom line, in retaining highly engaged, loyal and productive employees and, unexpectedly, contributing to making our world a better place.

[1] http://bit.ly/1HJYoO8

[2] http://bit.ly/1L4Gw2S