Monday, February 27, 2012

Working Mom Guilt

Mornings have been really rough lately.  Not that they've EVER been easy since having kids, but lately they've been extra difficult because of Little A.  Instead of adapting to her new daycare, which she started in October, she is increasingly resisting going to daycare.  Monday to Friday I am faced with screaming, tears and protests while she begs me to let her stay home with me. 

I have no concerns about the quality of the new daycare - it's the same outstanding one Big A goes to, which has a 3 year wait list - but I do have concerns about forcing her to go when she clearly doesn't want to.  Adam and I have identified the issue as being related to the strictness of her teachers.  They are kind and loving, but they run the preschool room with iron fists and there is a lot of structure and rules.  For a kid like Big A, this would be no big deal, but Little A gets very upset when she feels she has been reprimanded and if an authority figure even does so much as remind her of a rule (i.e., "no running in the halls, etc.), she takes that as a reprimand and completely falls apart.  We don't know why she is so sensitive, given what a tough little girl she is in other ways, but she is.

Little A also has not bonded yet with most of the other kids.  She still talks about some of her friends from the old daycare, but only really plays with one kid in the new daycare.  Unfortunately, according to her teachers, this kid bosses her around a lot - I think Little A worships her - so much so, that the teachers often feel the need to separate the two.  I don't know why she hasn't bonded with the other kids, she is an incredibly social child and they seem to like HER.  But when I ask if she wants me to arrange playdates with various kids, or if they are her friends, she emphatically says, "NO".

Aside from being frustrating to deal with her in the mornings, it also induces a great deal of guilt.  After all, even now that I am finished school and my counselling training, I am not working full-time, and may not be for quite a while until the fertility clinic position gets under way.  So there are days when she says she wants to stay home with me, that SHE COULD.  Of course, if I didn't have her in child care I would not have the option of taking any work when it comes my way.  But I was feeling so guilty one day last week, that I left her at daycare only to ponder whether it was worth it - even after working so hard to get to this place - to pursue a career at her expense.  I wondered whether I should just pull both girls out of the daycare and stay home with them.  Yes, I would probably go insane after one day, but perhaps it would be better for them?

I have a hard time believing that actually.  They get so much stimulation and enrichment from their daycare.  I am often blown away by the creative activities they do, and the amazing events and field trips they take part in.  Given that my heart is not in being a stay-at-home mom (for myself, I really want a fulfilling career), I don't think I could provide them with anything that compares to what they are getting now.  Also, speaking with her teachers this past week, I've discovered that even on the days when she seems most distraught about going to daycare, she ends up having a great time.  She seems happy when I pick her up at the end of the day and she is obedient and social with the other kids.  There are no other outward signs of distress.

So not knowing what to think, I turned to the research to, hopefully assuage my guilt.  Hey, I'm trained as a researcher!  Surely the data will tell me that maternal employment is beneficial to children's well-being, right?

Unfortunately, I was surprised to find that this is not the case.  The findings are actually equivocal.  Overall, there appears to be no clear relationship between maternal employment and cognitive, emotional or behavioural outcomes for most children, however, maternal employment has a negative effect on children's health.  It is associated with increased adverse health events (hospital visits) for children and with increased risk of obesity.  The effect of maternal employment on children's academic achievement varies by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status.  Essentially, maternal employment is more likely to have negative effects on the academic achievement of children in white, upper middle class households, and more likely to have a positive effect on African American children and children from disadvantaged, single-parent homes. 

These findings are NOT AT ALL WHAT I EXPECTED and did not make me feel any better.  I was somewhat relieved, however, to find a study demonstrating that for highly educated mothers, full-time employment is positively associated with self-esteem and negatively related to depression, and that maternal affect is positively correlated with children's affect.  So in other words, if mama is happy, children are more likely to be happy.  That's at least comforting since I can guarantee that I am happier as a working mom!

I guess the long and short of it is that whether or not you decide to work when you have children is a very personal matter, and a decision you have to make based on you and your children's demographic and individual characteristics.  What is 'right' for one person may not be the best thing for another.  Of course, for many people it isn't even a choice because of financial reasons.  I  guess the good news is that if that's the case, maternal employment may actually be beneficial for your children.

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