The sitter picks her up from school, or maybe it’s her father or her grandparents. You can’t make it to her soccer game or her ballet recital, or you’re stuck at the office the moment her science project wins the blue ribbon. You arrive home just after she’s eaten dinner or show up three hours after she’s gotten back from school or maybe you walk through the door moments after she’s been tucked in. It sets in: the rush of working mom guilt.
“I think while all mothers deal with feelings of guilt,” says Arianna Huffington, “working mothers are plagued by guilt on steroids!”
Though there are scads of reasons why mothers often experience more guilt over working than fathers, the most prominent reason is society tells them they should feel guilty. A 2012 Pew Research Center survey confirmed this belief is still held by much of society: 70% of those surveyed said working full-time is the ideal situation for men with young children while just 16% said the same about women. But recent studies suggest that when mothers work outside of the home, everyone wins.
Kathleen McGinn and Mayra Ruiz Castro of Harvard Business School and Elizabeth Long Lingo of Mt. Holyoke College analyzed data from comprehensive surveys of over 100,000 adults and found that across all 29 developed countries surveyed, women who grew up with working mothers earned 6% more than women who did not. The difference is even greater in the United States, where daughters of working mothers earned 23% more than daughters of non-working mothers and also proved to be more likely to hold supervisor roles in the workplace.
While sons were equally as likely to hold supervisor roles regardless of whether they grew up with a working mother or not, sons raised by working mothers were more likely to spend more time caretaking and helping with household chores than sons who did not. The environments in which we are raised influence our gender attitudes and social learning. These findings support that growing up in a household with a working mother is an indication that an individual will be more likely to experience an egalitarian approach to work and caretaking in adulthood.
“So much of what people think they know about gender is simply not substantiated by empirical evidence, but instead is based on gender stereotypes,” says Harvard Business School Senior Associate Dean Robin Ely.
The intention of the reports is not to suggest that all mothers should work, but rather it should correct the sexist narrative that men should provide while women care for the home.
While guilt may be the first response to missing out on mother-daughter time, hopefully mothers find respite knowing that their absence will likely pay off in the future.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.