Open Thread: Study finds working moms are happier than stay at home

Before I even present the link, I want to emphasize that no matter how anybody else bends this study, I am not saying there’s anything wrong with being a stay at home mom. I think it’s a wonderful vocation (so is stay at home dad!), and I will get into my theories on why this study got the results it did.

But this study is of great interest because we’ve had a lot of studies over the years from dubious sources claiming that working women are unhappy and dissatisfied, and can only be repaired by finding a hubby to take care of them while they pop out babies. This study appears to be a little more legitimate – it relied on self-reporting, but with a large sample group and over twenty years – and what I like about it is that it shows that working moms can be happy and healthy.

Note that everything changes once the kids go off to school, and the stay-at-home mom isn’t tending them all day. Suddenly, these SAH moms are as happy and healthy as their employed counterparts. Additionally, moms with part-time jobs seem the best off (defined in the study as 1-32 hours per week). The study took into account variables such as the mothers’ levels of education and “certain personality traits.”

This study doesn’t present conclusions – few studies do. You typically need a lot of studies on a topic before trends become indisputable, and even then we frequently misinterpret what’s behind the trends, and several decades later feel pretty stupid about the whole thing. But studies suggest, and what this one suggests is:

Stay-at-home moms may be more socially isolated than working moms, which might increase their chances of being depressed, the researchers said. Stay-at-home moms might also be under more stress as a result of being at home with their children all day. This stress may be relieved somewhat when their children start school, which may explain why the link disappeared when children entered preschool.

Parenting is stressful whether you’re employed or not. My guess is that it’s the social isolation from other adults that makes it daunting to be at home with tiny kids every day. I wonder if SAH parenting has always been that socially isolating. It used to be more common to have extended families living together – which may have meant moms could occasionally get a break. Here in a big city where no home is many miles from coffee houses, restaurants and all kinds of shopping, I see parents out and about with their kids (usually it’s moms, but I do sometimes see dad), meeting other parents for coffee while the kids nap in their strollers. But that would be a whole other kind of expedition for people living somewhere more spread out, where maybe the nearest Starbucks is thirty plus minutes away.

SAH mothers have also described to me what it’s like to have to learn to think like a three-year-old, and communicate on his level. It made them crave adult conversations, and get depressed when no one was available to have one with them.

Perhaps the best news is: this is all fixable. If people would just dump their unfounded ideas that men are biologically predestined to go off to work all day and occasionally grunt at the kids before falling asleep in the armchair, and women are supposed to orbit their kids like a small, tired, overheated planet circling a high-energy sun, the solution would be obvious: maybe women can’t have it all as long as men are continuing to have it all, but maybe the best solution to the question of parenting and employment duties is for everybody to have a little bit of everything.

Maybe we need to radically restructure our approach to jobs. Maybe they should all be part time. Since that would cost employers more in benefits, maybe we should raise taxes a little and put the onus of providing healthcare and paid time off on the government. I don’t know, this is all off the cuff. My point is that we need to stop accepting that life just sucks for women and that’s too bad, and start thinking way outside the box. Because when you improve life for women, you improve it for children. And then you get generations that have better skills for living than did the previous ones.

Isn’t that worth unchaining women from the kitchen?

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