Hello. This is about to be an article about moms. We could go back and forth all day screaming about whether working moms hurt stay-at-home moms' feelings, or whether stay-at-home moms contribute to a culture that takes working moms less seriously by default, but let's not. Here is the situation: Some women want to work and raise kids. Some women want to stay home and raise kids. Some women don't want kids at all. Some women don't want to work but must to support their families. Some women are listless heiresses who just want to lounge on a yacht. Some women want to be rescued. And no matter what your opinion is on any of those lifestyles, here is the takeaway: When women tell you what they want, they are not full of shit.
I feel like there's still a subtle but pervasive feeling in our culture—even among educated liberals—that no matter how much women insist we want independence and autonomy, biology dictates that we'd all secretly love to stay home, be taken care of, and take care of children. Babies come out of us, after all. There are different strains of that idea, of course—from mild ones (women are natural nurturers!) to violently misogynistic ones (women are lazy gold diggers!)—but it's an idea that chips away, however slightly, at women's ability to make our own choices and have those choices respected.
So ANYWAY, in case anyone's still on the fence about whether or not women really want to be liberated (maybe you suspect that feminism is just a conspiracy to get out of doing the dishes and indulge in masturbatory bitching until Sir Lancelot invents a time machine and takes us away from all this)—here is some science for you.
Researchers from the University of Akron in Ohio studied 2,540 women who had children between 1978 and 1995:
After adjusting for other factors that could influence the findings, such as prior health, employment before pregnancy, race/ethnicity, single motherhood, cognitive ability, and age at first birth, they found the choices women make early in their professional lives can influence their health later on.
Women who go back to full time work shortly after having children reported better health, both physical and mental. They have more mobility, less tendency to depression, and have more energy, at age 40.
"It gives women a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, control and autonomy."
"They have a place where they are an expert on something, and they're paid a wage."
The study takes particular interest in a group they found to be the least healthy—the "persistently unemployed." These are mothers who are persistently in and out of jobs, usually not by choice. "Struggling to hold onto a job or being in constant job search mode wears on their health, especially mentally, but also physically," the study claims.
Now. Obviously this issue (oh, it's just life and the choices we make in it—NBD!) is impossibly complex. It's not particularly surprising that moms who have the education and social stability and access to childcare to hold down steady careers would have better quality of life overall. But we can draw a few observations:
1. Being unemployed fucking sucks. For everyone.
2. Work is rewarding for men and women. Women like to be recognized for what they do just as much as what they are.
3. Stress is bad for you.
4. Taking care of children full-time is HARD. It's grueling and draining. It's not a job that ends at 5 pm, and it's isolating to spend all your time without any other adults around.
5. If all of this seems like common sense, that's because it is. This study doesn't "prove" one type of mom to be "better" than another—but it's a convincing tally in the "women are people" column. Women can make choices for women, and sometimes the best choices might be counter to traditionalist notions of "biology." Women aren't magical nurturing baby incubators just whiling away their single years at the ad agency like it's a hobby. Women aren't homogeneous. And if a woman tells you she wants something—whether it's to work or to stay home with the kids—just fucking believe her.
Photo credit: yuri_arcurs / Stockfresh.