Mother's Day always brings a spate of articles, editorials, blogs and other reflections about moms and motherhood, and this year was no exception. One of my Mother's Day gifts from my family was a few undisturbed hours in a quiet house so I actually had a chance to catch up with all the motherhood media. (Don't worry, I'm not a mom monomaniac: I read more than my fair share of stories about the death of Osama bin Laden and the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.)
In with such weighty and sobering pieces as Save the Children's State of the World's Mother's 2011 report and index (the U.S. ranked an abysmal 31 of 43 developed countries) and Nick Kristof's op-eds on saving mothers for Mothers' (in the plural) Day (here and here), I came across a short post on Time's Heartland health blog - Depression and the Mommy Wars: Who's the Worst Off? It's about a new study on mothers and depression released last week by the Council of Contemporary Families (CCF). (Actually, it's just a briefing paper. The full study won't be published until next year.) I thought I'd share it (and a few other pieces) with you as a belated Mother's Day gift.
I know that you're thinking that this doesn't sound like much a a gift. But it is. It is because, despite the topic and the mommy wars come-on, the CCF study goes beyond old battles on the effects of working for pay versus staying at home on moms and their kids.
The study, by several academic sociologists, looked at the ideologically loaded question of whether working or staying at home causes maternal depression, a significant risk factor for children's well-being. It came up with the remarkably unremarkable conclusion that there's no neat "one-size-fits-all" answer: "The impact of working for pay or staying home on women's risk of depression depends on mothers' preferences and on their job quality . . . ."
Basically, if you want to work, and you have a "high-quality" job (measured by participants' responses to questions relating to job satisfaction), you're risk for maternal depression is low relative to other mothers. If you're a stay-at-home mom by choice, you 're only slightly more likely to have depressive symptoms. And even if you don't want to work for pay, but you've somehow managed to find yourself in a high-quality job, you (somewhat surprisingly) have as few depressive symptoms as women who are stay-at-home moms by choice.
Of course, the CCF study is not all good news. If you're in a low-quality job (as many women are, especially low-wage workers) or you're not at home by choice, you are more likely to be at risk for depression. And I have more than a strong hunch that the "why" factor that the study doesn't explore - why women choose to work or not - has a lot to do with economic security (or insecurity), which has major implications for maternal depression and childrens' well-being. These are all issues that require more attention.
Still, the study's nuanced and thoughtful conclusions - so different from much of the divisive, mommy-warring articles that often appear in the media - do seem like a small gift for all moms.
Also, check out these interesting working mom-related reads I came across during my Mother's Day media marathon:
-An op-ed by Stephanie Coontz in The New York Times - When We Hated Mom- debunking the myth that feminism destroyed the high social status and satisfying lifestyle enjoyed by women 50 years ago. Coontz shows that housewives of the era were often exhausted and isolated and routinely denigrated, and that feminism brought about numerous changes that benefited not only women entering the workforce, but also full-time homemakers, and men. Interestingly, Coontz refers to the CCF study in her op-ed as evidence of these trends.
-An article by Brigid Schulte in the Washington Post - Movement to keep moms working is remaking the workplace - chronicling new local initiatives to keep professional women in the workforce, including in law firm practice.
-And a Huffington Post response, by Joan Carbone and Naomi Cahn - Opt-in Movement Great for Upper Middle Class Moms. But the Rest Need Options, Too - making the title's argument - that the workplace flexibility movement must address the needs low-wage working women who cannot afford to trade off income for family time, and often work in low-quality (rigid, highly scheduled, non-autonomous) work environments.
Please sample, savor, discuss, dispute, dismiss, delete . . . and, above all, comment below.
Happy post-Mother's Day!
Photo by Stacy Feuer.