Study: Working Mothers Have Better-Behaved Daughters

Last Updated Jul 29, 2011 11:57 AM EDT

Working moms with mommy guilt may want to give themselves a break. According to a new British study of 12,000 children, young kids with moms who work are no more likely to have behavioral or emotional issues at age 5 than peers with stay-at-home mothers.

Researchers say this was not surprising. "Other studies have found no effect or sometimes even a benefit when looking at maternal employment and child well-being, and much of this is due to the fact that working mothers tend to have higher levels of education, income and other social and economic advantages," says study author Anne McMunn, PhD, MPH, Senior Research Fellow & Graduate Tutor in the Department of Epidemiology & Public Health at University College London. What was surprising was that young girls who had moms who didn't work at all outside the home were at an increased risk of behavioral problems. "We don't know why the relationship is stronger for girls than for boys. We need to investigate this further," says McMunn.

Social psychologist Susan Newman Ph.D. says employed moms may be giving their daughter an example of what women can do: "Working mothers create a role model for their daughters, someone for them to look up to and aspire to in terms of achieving higher education levels. They portray a model of action and discipline for daughters to emulate," says Newman. She adds that girls tend to mature faster and that may be why the 5-year-old daughters were already reaping the positive benefits. Finally, in this economy, Newman notes that a second income is helpful for families: "A working mother's income often helps reduce the family's financial stress. That in turn, makes for a happier, calmer atmosphere for growing children."

Of course, like many studies of this nature, we can't assume a relationship of cause-effect, and researchers aren't suggesting that stay-at-home moms are doing their children a disservice in any way. But the findings are certainly a reason to feel good about making the best decision you can for your family -- financially and emotionally.

If you're a mom balancing work and family, here are 5 smart suggestions from Newman:

1. Choose reliable, nurturing caregivers who have value and expectations that are similar to yours.

2. Create rituals, like reading a book together or having a young child set the table, that build security and a sense of family.

3. When you are home, be present and attentive, and listen to what your child is telling you.

4. Make your time with them, no matter how short, sacrosanct. Avoid work calls or email during that special time.

5. Make it a practice to say "I love you" several times a day.

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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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