Don't worry, career mothers, your children are on the right track, writes Kim Kind.
Maintaining a career and feeling guilty go hand in hand for Australia's growing population of working mums. But local and international experts say mums worried about working late, having an empty fridge and sending children to school with dirty socks can give themselves a break.
Children benefit from having a working mum in many ways.
Diane Grady sits on the boards of several of Australia's largest companies, is a Member of the Order of Australia, mother of two and a champion for women in the workplace and work-life balance.
"Working mums are typically good role models for juggling time," Grady says. "Their diverse interests and commitments can offer intellectual stimulation, which rubs off on children and can lift aspirations.
Children of working mothers have less traditional gender-role attitudes.
"Kids tend to be more self-reliant and confident when mums work and are less inclined to stereotypical views of male-female roles in society. They see mums as breadwinners as well as dads.
"The CEOs I know, who don't hesitate to offer women leadership opportunities, have had important women, often mothers, in their lives. They know women can 'do it' as well as men."
Her views are supported by Professor Lois Hoffman from the University of Michigan, whose book, Mothers at Work: Effects on Children's Wellbeing, says daughters of employed women are more independent, less shy and feel more competent and capable.
She found children of working mothers had less traditional gender-role attitudes, with girls seeing women as more competent in traditionally male roles and boys and girls believing it was OK for men to do housework. Professor Hoffman also found fathers became more involved in housework and childcare when their wives re-entered the workforce and this had a positive effect on children.
Matthew Gray is the deputy director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies and says the role of fathers is crucial.
"Men are increasingly expecting to have a greater role in the lives of their children... we know that women still do far more (childcare) and they do more housework but men are being more involved," Dr Gray says.
"It's good for children if they have a strong relationship with both parents."
Despite this trend towards greater paternal involvement, most families with a working mother still resort to paid childcare at some time. Quality childcare has benefits for preschool-aged children, says Sarah Wise, general manager of policy, research and innovation at Anglicare Victoria.
"Children approach the age of three and their world needs to expand in terms of relationships beyond their mother. They need to form relationships with peers and other adults to broaden their world and experiences and this is all part of normal and good development," Dr Wise says.
"When the (care) environment is programmed in a professional and high-quality way and when it is focused on children's learning and emerging literacy ... it is positively enhancing to their school readiness and education outcomes."
Incredibly, even when childcare is used, working mums spend almost as much time with their children as mums who don't work.
Analysis of time-use statistics by Lyn Craig of the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, shows that working mums spend almost as much time talking, reading and playing with their children as stay-at-home mums. They manage this by spending less time on housekeeping and themselves and sacrificing child-free leisure.
"There is a price to be paid by mums who want to work. Work is a priority and time with their children is a priority, so what gets left out is their own recuperative time," Dr Craig says.
Although working mums miss out on "me time", if they are working by choice in a job they enjoy, pursuing a career can add to a sense of fulfilment and happiness.
"For women who have an education or particular skills and qualifications, then working can be very rewarding and important to their own wellbeing and that's good for children," Dr Gray says.
There is a link between the wellbeing of parents and good parent-child relationships, whether mothers work or stay at home.
When all the pieces of the puzzle are in place – an enjoyable, flexible job, supportive partners and quality childcare, Dr Wise believes children learn valuable lessons by watching their parents juggle work and life.
It's good for them to see dad supporting mum by cooking dinner or taking a child to school.
"They are having to plan as a family ... they're talking, they're co-operating," she says.
Why it's good to have a working mum
- Children can learn time-management skills from mum.
- Increase in working mothers has coincided with a trend to greater involvement by fathers.
- Working mums spend almost the same amount of time providing "active care" for their children as stay-at-home mums.
- Children have less-traditional gender-role attitudes.
- The income working mums generate can help provide a better lifestyle for children.
- High-quality, non-parental care of preschool-age children aids socialisation and school readiness.
- Working boosts mums' own wellbeing, making them happy and improving relationships with their children.
This article has been supplied by My Career.
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