When you're a parent, choosing between working and staying at home feels like a no-win situation. Whichever door you choose, regrets are always lurking in the background needling you about what you've given up. Whether you're a working parent or you've chosen to stay at home, chances are you're no stranger to guilt.
But parents who work tend to get the far crappier end of the guilt stick. Am I screwing up my kid by having a career and not spending as much time at home? Parents who work, especially moms, are often made to feel selfish, uncaring, and even negligent in a culture where mommy wars run rampant and helicopter parenting is the new black.
It seems, though, that the tide of favor is turning towards working parents. The scientific community has been looking closely at outcomes in families with primary caregivers who work, and the verdict is in: Not only are you not screwing your kids up by being a working parent, but there may even be unique benefits to this option. A groundbreaking Harvard Business School study from last year showed that daughters of working parents are more likely to land in well-paid supervisory roles, and sons are more likely to be caring, emotionally intelligent, and helpful in the home. Had I known that going back to work was what it would take to be rewarded with caring, helpful sons, I'd have gone back to work ages ago.
And the news only gets better from there. A more recent survey of adults between the ages of 23 and 44 showed that the ones who had working parents said about 21 percent more often than their counterparts who had one parent at home that they had been taught invaluable life skills that positively influenced their own work ethic. It's a figure that deserves the attention it's getting.
So you can breathe a well deserved sigh of relief. Your kids probably aren't going to grow up to be criminals and derelicts because you had the audacity to make your career a priority. So let's move on, then, to someone whose needs are so often sacrificed at the altar of parenthood: you.
What about your happiness? Your needs? Your wants? The archetypical perfect parent, who is a divine martyr of sorts, doesn't experience those things; she (I use the feminine pronoun here because this phenomenon affects women more, despite the fact that more and more men are acting as primary caregivers these days) lives only for her children.
Mercifully, a different narrative is emerging from the literature, and it's one that acknowledges that parents who have lives outside of the home have the potential to be happier. I daresay much happier. And less prone to stress, worry, anger, and sadness. They may even enjoy better physical health in general.
We're all entitled to make the choices that are right for our families when it comes to deciding whether to work or stay at home. I'm just glad to have some arrows in my quiver next time someone questions my choice.