Here’s why to ditch working mum guilt – 5 surprising reasons the children benefit from your job

Family photographer Edinburgh - mum and little boy jumping off steps at Lauriston Castle

Working mum guilt ... Poisonous, isn't it?

I'm an Edinburgh branding photographer for service-based small business owners, and I've been a working mum for almost 20 years now.

As most of my clients are also working mums, I’m going to tell you exactly why we can all ditch the working mum guilt which plagues so many of us.

Are you one of the millions who suffer from working mum guilt? 

Are you one of the far, far too many mums who thinks you're just not good enough?

Do you balance work and family and feel that you don’t make the best job you can of either, constantly struggling to balance all the demands on your time and sanity?

Do you feel perpetually guilty because you work to make ends meet and worry about the effect being cared for by others has on your children?

Or maybe you’re in an eternal guilt loop because you actually LIKE working out of the home and the thought of being a SAHM ("Stay at Home Mum") makes your skin crawl, yet you worry that your children will suffer because of it.


Banish the guilt

It’s hardly fair, is it? Why on earth should you have to feel guilty about wanting to have a satisfying career AND bring up a family? Is this working mum guilt justified?

It’s time to have a closer look at whether it’s time to set aside this burden of guilt. I think it is.

The research

If you’re going to burn up with guilt, you might as well find out if there’s a good reason, right?

The possible benefits and risks of mothers’ working on children’s well-being is highly politicised and is a never ending subject of heated public and scientific debate. The internet is awash with fluff pieces on the subject.

But too many of these articles make a lot of wild generalised statements not backed up by evidence.

So I went looking for some.

What I found

You know what? It was hard to find a substantive answer to the question of whether it’s damaging OR beneficial for children to have working mothers.

There seem to be just too many variables at play to reach a firm conclusion.


If you're a SAHM

I am NOT saying that working is better for your kids than not working. After all, if the academics can’t agree on it, who am I to come down firmly on one side or the other?

Just because being a working mum may give your family certain benefits, it doesn't mean if you’re a SAHM you can’t achieve the same thing. Not at all.

What I’m saying is, there is no need for working mums to feel guilty about what they do.

Here's why.

How your children benefit from you working

1) You’re a great role model

Your daughter can emulate your success, initiative, independence, and ambition.

Your daughter is seeing at first hand that she can have children yet still be a functioning, contributing, money-earning member of wider society rather than contributing less directly by staying at home.

You working also benefits your son.

Harvard found sons of working mothers were more likely to contribute to household chores and spent more time caring for family members, as the chances are, he’ll have been brought up to pull his weight and help through necessity.

Family photography Edinburgh Lauriston Castle Mum and one year old girl walking

2) Cognitive and achievement benefits

If I had stayed at home all the time with my children, I’m sure they’d have missed out on a lot of things on the great nursery curriculum. They learned lots of stuff there's no way I could have taught them.

The children of working mothers are more likely to be rated as high achievers by their teachers and have fewer instances of anxiety and depression.

Click to read what the research showed
Now that it’s been commonplace for mothers to work outside of the home for a couple of generations, there is more data available about the effect this has academically.

The “Early Maternal Employment and Children’s Vocabulary and Inductive Reasoning Ability: A Dynamic Approach” study found “Prolonged maternal employment appears to be slightly beneficial for the developmental outcomes at age 5” and “found no evidence that mothers’ participation in the labor market is harmful to child development”.

However, they did assert that high quality childcare plays a significant part in cognitive advantage.

The American Psychological Association’s “Maternal Work Early in the Lives of Children and Its Distal Associations With Achievement and Behavior Problems: A Meta-Analysis – The American Psychological Association” study analysed 50 years’ worth of data and concluded that children whose mothers went back to work before they were 3 years old did no worse academically than those whose mothers stayed at home.

Lauriston Castle Edinburgh family photographer mum kissing little boy

3) More focused quality time

Working mums go to great lengths to compensate for their absence, and in the hours they DO have with their children, they often make better use of the time.

If you know you've only got a couple of hours at night with them, you're not going to be doing the laundry or doing the hoovering then, are you? You're also likely to have more money to be able to outsource some of that housework.

We're more likely to read to them or engage positively rather than just stick them on an iPad. 

Click to read what the research showed
The “Growing up in Scotland” project, which my son and I were part of, incidentally, produced a report called “Early Maternal Employment and Children’s Vocabulary and Inductive Reasoning Ability: A Dynamic Approach” report.

They found “the interactions between mothers and their children are more cognitively stimulating when mothers work, suggesting that employed mothers often go to great lengths to compensate for their absence, especially those mothers who are employed full-time, and they naturally reduce time spent in areas of our lives where children are not involved – such as housework.

Silvia Mendolia University of Wollongong and IZA’s “Maternal Working Hours and the Well-Being of Adolescent  Children” report found working mothers read to their kids more. I think we all know the benefits of that.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information found that family time can be more focused where mothers work, as they exchange quantity of time for better “quality” of time: “On average, maternal work has no effect on time spent on activities that positively influence children’s development, but it reduces time in types of activities that may be detrimental to children’s development.”

Family photographer Edinburgh Fife Lothian Colwell family Lauriston Castle Edinburgh 27

4) More money and more resources

A double-income family is more likely to have more disposable cash, which means you’re more likely to be able to give them more, better, and wider experiences, as well as better nutrition, a safer environment, and higher quality childcare.

Put simply, more money means more access to goods and services which can enhance your child’s development.

Lauriston Castle Edinburgh family photographer mum and two daughters in tree

5) You’re happier so they’re happier

If you’re working because you want to ...

You shouldn’t feel guilty because you want a good career - there's nothing wrong with wanting to function independently of the home out in the workplace.

Maybe you find it more fulfilling. Maybe you like making a direct and publicly acknowledged difference in the wider community. Maybe your ideas and the things you do at work make a difference on a local and global level.

Your ambition and dedication to a particular pursuit/cause don’t necessarily disappear when you have kids. You may operate at a reduced capacity at times, but you don’t have to give up completely.

Decades of research supports that a mother's own happiness is the key to raising psychologically healthy kids, so if working makes you happier, that in itself is a great reason to keep on doing it.

Since children are incredibly receptive to what is going on around them, soaking up all your emotions like a sponge, your happiness causes them to feel happier too.

If you’re working just because you have to …

Remember, you’re doing it for them, and it DOES help.

If you are working a job you don’t like but you do it because bills don’t pay themselves, you’re helping provide the money to create a childhood with a safe place to sleep, healthy things to eat, and valuable experiences.

You’re helping create a generation of wee girls who grow up to achieve their dreams and wee boys who see their mums and sisters and aunts and future daughters as equals.

Lauriston Castle Edinburgh family photographer mum and daughter standing at wrought iron gate

The surprising conclusion

Socio-economic factors affect children’s wellbeing much more than the simple issue of whether your working is good or bad for them.

And just because a SAHM spends more hours with her children, it doesn’t mean to say that those hours all benefit child development. (Like when you’re doing the housework and Peppa Pig is doing the babysitting. Don’t lie. We’ve all done it.)

What seems to count most is the quality of the time you spend with your children rather than the quantity.


It's all fine, honestly

Stop lying awake at night worrying that you're not good enough because you're not there all day, every day, with your children.

Stop being distracted at work because you're worried they're missing you, or that they can't cope without you. They're not, and they can. 

You ARE a good mother and your children WILL be fine. Better than fine, even.


Are you looking for a personal branding photographer in Scotland?

Whether it's Edinburgh, Glasgow, or anywhere else, I'm happy to travel to you.

I specialise in brand photography for small service-based businesses, and I offer beautiful headshot and personal branding photography that's strategically designed to help small business owners and entrepreneurs like you succeed.

So, if you're ready to take your business to the next level with brand photography, let's speak! No pressure or sales talk here - simply drop me an email or book a call, and we'll have a chat about what you and your business are all about, and how your marketing messages can be translated into images which sell for you.

Together, we'll come up with ideas for professional business images that will draw in your ideal high-value clients and make your business truly stand out.

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