Juggling work and family obligations makes working mothers feel that they’re always dropping the ball somewhere. When you’re at work, you’re missing time away from your kids. When you’re at home, you’re missing out on networking events that could advance your career. But a recent book by Pamela Lenehan, My Mother, My Mentor: What Grown Children of Working Mothers Want You to Know, spells out the many benefits children receive from mothers who work outside the home.
"Women want to be perfect at work, and we want to be perfect at home, but it’s hard to be perfect at anything," says Lenehan. While many working mothers will question at least once whether they should just drop it all and stay at home, Lenehan conducted a survey of over 1,000 grown children and working mothers and found being a working mom actually has substantial benefits to children.
Parents know modelling is the best way to instill behaviors and values, so it should come as no surprise that the children of working mothers Lenehan surveyed reported that watching their mothers going to work every day instilled in them a strong work ethic, more so than the children whose mothers stayed at home.
"Working mothers know they’re not going to be there for everything, so they deliberately tried to have their children be more independent," says Lenehan. Allowing children to walk to school by themselves, for example, dress themselves, and play by themselves instilled a greater sense of independence, rather than moms who stayed at home and were available to their children 24/7.
The children of working mothers reported being able to solve their own problems and bounce back from tough times better than the children of stay-at-home moms. "Because the mothers knew that they wouldn’t be there all the time, they had to give children the skills to solve problems," says Lenehan.
Watching their mothers deal with challenges at work helped children feel better prepared for the working world. "A number of these children had seen their mothers get laid off in corporate downsizing or heard about problems with bosses or difficult coworkers, so they felt that when they got to work, they knew that there were going to be issues, but they felt they had these skills on how to address these issues," says Lenehan.
The children of working mothers also felt that they had a wider professional network to tap into when it came time to seek career guidance. Although few of the children Lenehan interviewed actually ended up working in the same field as their mothers, they reported that their working mothers were able to connect them with a friend, or a friend of a friend, in the field they were interested in to provide expert advice. Although working fathers were also able to provide assistance in this area, Lenehan reports that mothers were often the ones who helped children with their resumes, articulate what they were looking for in a career, and find the right job.
One Harvard found daughters of working mothers earned 23% more than daughters of stay-at-home moms and climbed higher on the corporate ladder (over 33% held supervisory positions, compared to 25% of daughters of stay-at-home moms). Lenehan, too, found grown women reaped the greatest benefit of having a working mother growing up, likely because they were able to recognize that the struggles they faced in balancing family and work were the same struggles their mothers overcame.