More than 75% of British mothers are employed during the child's first three years of life. In the current economic climate, many mothers are forced to return to work because they, and their families, need the income. Mothers have also been moving back into the workforce because they have spent many years developing their careers. If they opt to stay at home to look after their children, they may give up some of the advantages that they have earned, or risk losing certain career opportunities.
The bulk of research shows that the child’s learning and development is influenced by a secure, safe and predicable emotional attachment to the mother, her wellbeing and health, and the quality of childcare. An infant who is emotionally secure will thrive regardless of whether the mother works or stays at home.
The mother’s wellbeing
Working outside the home can have a positive impact on the mother’s health and wellbeing. The stimulation of work and the social aspect of employment can increase the mother’s mental health, sense of control, life satisfaction and morale. In turn, this improves her relationship with the child, and the child’s emotional development.
Even so, many mothers are faced with several concerns before returning to employment. The mother may feel that she will end up doing most of the household chores. However, if both parents share household responsibilities, the mother will not end up doing most of the work. With both parents working, the need for mutual support is more important than ever.
The mother may feel guilty about leaving the child with another adult and she may feel anxious about missing out on some of the major developmental milestones. She may worry that the infant will forget her when she is at work or even feel jealous of the child’s attachment to another person. These feelings are normal.
One area that worries the mother is that the child is being looked after by an unfamiliar carer, who may not have the time or inclination to form an attachment. The mother needs to feel that the child will be happy, safe and well cared for by a consistent and sensitive secondary figure. Having a regular carer is essential for the mother’s emotional stability and for the child’s healthy functioning and development.
Millions of mothers juggle work and home life and raise perfectly happy children. The same is true for the children of non-working mothers.
There are many benefits to the family if the mother decides not to work. She can share in all the important milestones, spend time with her children, get involved in their learning and development, look after them when they are unwell, actively participate in outside events and activities, and keep the home running smoothly. Non-working mothers can also save on expenses such as car repairs, travel costs, clothing and childcare. However, for many mothers, the lifelong emotional bond with the child is the biggest benefit.
Non-working mothers who make the best use of quality time with their children build their self-esteem, give them a sense of worth and lay the foundation for their future success and wellbeing.
Only if the mother’s interaction with her children is minimal or neglectful, is the child’s wellbeing and academic performance likely to be affected when they go to school.
The first few years of life are integral to the infant’s emotional, social and intellectual development, but this does not mean that the mother is the only one who can do the shaping.