Back on the Career Track: Impact on Children

| December 11, 2013 | 0 Comments

Read Part 1 Back on the Career Track

The Impact On Children

back on trackFor most women at home, it’s their children who are keeping them there. If you’ve been a hands-on parent, seeing your children off to school each morning and meeting them at the bus stop or welcoming them home each day, you may be understandably concerned about how your return to work will affect them and in turn, how that will make you feel as a mother. And it’s probably not just the logistics of who will get them out of the house in the morning or who will supervise them in the afternoon that worry you.always assumed I would return to my job at Drexel Burnham Lambert after maternity leave.

If you’ve been an at-home parent, you’re accustomed to a parent kissing them good-bye in the morning and keeping track of their goings-on after school. Peggy, a former advertising executive with two elementary-school-aged daughters, has very strong feelings about the importance of parental influence, in the moment, when her kids come home from school. “I know who my kids’ friends are and can subtly and gently steer them toward certain friendships and away from others. I could never have this level of awareness if I was working full-time. I think this closeness gives me the ability to set boundaries for my children that I wouldn’t be able to set as clearly if I weren’t so close to the dynamics of their daily lives.”

Although many mothers feel strongly about being home for milk-and-cookie time almost until their children leave for college, some find themselves willing to consider being out of the house a few afternoons a week because they’ve built up such a cushion of full-time motherhood underneath them. These moms do not think they need that lengthy daily contact in order to feel part of their children’s lives. In fact, a few women described having the opposite feeling: Because they had been home full-time for so long, they actually didn’t want to be there full-time anymore.

If you’ve been an at-home parent, you’re accustomed to a parent kissing them good-bye in the morning and keeping track of their goings-on after school. Peggy, a former advertising executive with two elementary-school-aged daughters, has very strong feelings about the importance of parental influence, in the moment, when her kids come home from school. “I know who my kids’ friends are and can subtly and gently steer them toward certain friendships and away from others. I could never have this level of awareness if I was working full-time. I think this closeness gives me the ability to set boundaries for my children that I wouldn’t be able to set as clearly if I weren’t so close to the dynamics of their daily lives.”

Although many mothers feel strongly about being home for milk-and-cookie time almost until their children leave for college, some find themselves willing to consider being out of the house a few afternoons a week because they’ve built up such a cushion of full-time motherhood underneath them. These moms do not think they need that lengthy daily contact in order to feel part of their children’s lives. In fact, a few women described having the opposite feeling: Because they had been home full-time for so long, they actually didn’t want to be there full-time anymore.

If you’re worried about the emotional and psychological impact of your working on your kids, be aware of the significant research published and dissected since you probably last visited the issue. In A Mother’s Place, Susan Chira examined several child care studies and concluded that “most studies that have followed children over time . . . have found virtually no differences between children of working or at-home mothers.”2 In fact, “several studies have indicated that children of working mothers, particularly poor children and girls, are more socially adjusted; perform better in school; and have greater self-reliance, higher career aspirations, and more egalitarian views of sex roles.”3 Unless your job hours coincide with those of your children (and we interviewed women who crafted such opportunities), then you’re going to have to find some child care and get yourself and your kids comfortable with it. You may have to engage a part-time babysitter or enroll your child in an after-school program, for example, at least a couple of days a week. Our experiences and those of the relaunchers we interviewed suggest that as with any major change, if you still have elementary-school-aged children at home, the transition will be easier for both you and your kids if you return to work gradually, rather than going back full-time out of the house from day one.




If a sudden change in financial status requires that you return to full-time work outside the home immediately, so be it. Or if you’re offered an incredible full-time opportunity that you don’t want to pass up, go for it. But if making the transition smooth is an option, then starting off with a reduced schedule, for example, a full day three days a week, or consulting from home with occasional days out, will help you and your children get used to the idea of your not being home when they get out of school. After an adjustment period, you can then ramp up to five full days without its being such a jolt to your children’s routines and expectations. Presenting yourself consistently as a working parent is the key to making the transition easier. A steady and gradual relaunch will help you appear more consistent to your kids.

The Difficulty of Relinquishing Control

Although studies suggest that children will survive their mothers’ working as long as high-quality care is found for them, you may still be reluctant to relinquish control on the home front. Gloria, a former pharmaceutical sales representative and mother of four, commented: “I’m a control freak. I just can’t see myself letting someone else run my household during the day. It would make me crazy.”

Although you may think you’re indispensable, most school-aged children can fend for themselves when pressed. But as stay-at-home moms, some of you may rarely give your children that opportunity. Monica, a physical therapist, worked while her kids were younger and then took five years off. She was contemplating a return, but was nervous about how the family would cope in her absence. She explained: “I was sick of hearing complaints from my husband and children about breakfasts, lunches, and how things were or were not getting done around the house, but I was nervous about how they would manage without me. Fed up one morning, I decided to take . . . inaction. I stayed in bed and let the children run through the morning routine themselves.” Well, the kids (a thirteen-year-old and ten-year-old twins) made their breakfasts and lunches themselves and left on their own. “It was a lesson to me. It was as if someone turned the light on. I realized that a ten-year-old making her own breakfast and going to the bus by herself can be a good thing. She’s developing competencies she wouldn’t have developed if I were always around. I think about it in terms of competencies developed in the absence or presence of parents.” Independence isn’t a bad thing to test and encourage. And it may convince you, as it did Monica, that life will go on at home after you go back to work.

The Reluctance to Give Up Your Freedom

In addition to the difficulty of letting go at home, many mothers don’t relish giving up their own freedom. Although part of you may long for the paycheck and camaraderie that come with employment, another part of you may be reluctant to give up the flexibility you now have to structure your days and accomplish your obligations as you see fit. Although you may be very busy “doing” for your husband, your kids, your home, and even volunteer assignments, those efforts differ significantly from being obligated to an employer or a client. And while we believe there is greater potential work flexibility now than has existed since the industrial revolution began, flexibility has its limits.

Debbie, a San Francisco mother of three, was a commercial banker who relaunched as a regional sales manager for a women’s clothing company that holds trunk shows in women’s homes. She gave us her take on the flexibility-versus-commitment issue: “It isn’t that these women don’t want to work. It’s just that they want work to be on their own terms. They want manageable time. They want work to factor into family life rather than the other way around.” Debbie took the regional sales job because it allowed her to have this kind of relationship with her work. And she recruits women to be reps who feel the same way. “I recruit women who have entrepreneurial leanings, but who don’t want to compromise family for their work.” The reps make twenty-five to fifty thousand dollars a year in gross commissions before expenses. For some, this is less than they made in their previous careers, but they willingly pay this price for the flexibility of the job and the ability to have their own business. Some of them do this as a way of keeping their hand in the working world, but in a manageable way.

Low Self-Esteem or Depression

As we mentioned, some women experience dwindling self-esteem the longer they remain home full-time. In extreme cases, this feeling of worthlessness can border on depression.

Kathy, a mother of four who left a public relations career, commented, “There’s this whole part of me that doesn’t know how I got here. I’m much more tentative in social situations. There are certain topics of conversation I shy away from because I’m afraid I won’t have an opinion on them. I don’t know what happened to the confident, competent person that I was. All I know is that person is definitely not here anymore. That person has been replaced by a depressed, easily intimidated person who feels socially awkward in groups that include others besides ‘mommies’ and their kids.

“Complicating this, I also feel as if my life has no meaning. I have no sense of accomplishment in my life, no sense that I’m making a difference for others outside of my immediate family. I use so much energy making everything work for all my kids all day that I am too exhausted at the end of the day to do anything to make myself interesting. I feel completely worthless because I don’t have anything to contribute.”

We don’t mean to imply that depression is an occupational hazard of at-home motherhood, nor that relaunching your career will eliminate your psychological ills. But neither are we the first to notice a correlation between housewives and depression.


 

 

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