Saturday, March 10, 2012

Working Mothers and Stress

It was Mary's dream to be able to stay home with her baby, but when her husband lost his job, it was decided that she should go back to teaching. She cried and cried. Her husband could not understand her prolonged stress and bouts of depression and it stressed him.

The grandmother quit her part time job to  help take care of the baby, and drive the baby to the mother during the mother's work breaks and lunch. The grandmother learned that elementary school teachers have few breaks. Teachers are expected to be available for recess duty and on cold days, indoor recess.

Was Mary's experience unusual? A study of 700 working mothers of infants found that any protective qualities of work, such as positive perceptions of health and improved physical functioning, were reduced for mothers of young children. These mothers had greater conflicts between work and family than mothers of older children (Marshall & Tracy, 2009, p. 380)

Another study showed that mothers of infants were more likely to have maternal work stress, negative work-family spillover, and depressive symptoms (Goodman & Crouter, 2009, p 245). This led to poorer outcomes for the infant. Both studies recommend public policies that help mothers to be home with their children at tender young ages because of evidence of the long term negative effects of prolonged separation of young children from their mothers. This perhaps could be because it violates the principles of attachment theory, which have been robustly confirmed with numerous studies that infants need to establish a connection with a primary caregiver.

Mothers who need to go to work should work to find solutions, including going to their teachers' or company's unions to demand breaks throughout their workday, so that they can use a breast pump and/or visits from their baby to maintain their milk supply. Such measures could help reduce the grief, stress and depression that new mothers can feel when they must go back to work.


Goodman, W. B. & Crouter, A. C. (2009). Longitudinal Associations between maternal work stress, 
         negative work-family spillover, and depressive symptoms. Family Relations: Interdisciplinary 
        Journal of Applied Family Studies: July 2009, volume 58, number 3.
Marshall, N. L. & Tracy, A.L. (2009). After the baby: Work-family conflict and working mothers'     
         psychological health. Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies:
         October 2009, volume 58, number 4.


  1. I think this has a lot of great insight. I know that it will be important to me to be with my kids as much as possible when I have a family some day. And if I need to work I hope to be able to find a job that will be flexible so I can choose to be home with my children when they need me the most.

  2. I think that is an important choice. The mother/infant bond during the first year of life is increasingly being becoming a subject of study because of evidence of the long-term benefits.

  3. Society is funny. We need good mothers. We recognize that society as a whole is strengthened when children are well taken care of. We recognize that caring for children requires certain skills and a lot of time. But we don't reward the people who develop those skills and who do the bulk of this childcare- parents and teachers. Society would collapse much more quickly if we lost parents and teachers than it would if we lost all our CEOs and bank owners.

  4. Well written, Mother/child bonding is so important. It helps to teach the child how to form bonds with future partners which are so important in relationships.

  5. From Cheryl R:
    I appreciate your comments. The bonds that are formed between parent and child and teacher and child can be eternal. Yet this importance can get lost in the demands of the day. If we let ourselves forget to nurture the bonds of affection, parenting/teaching can turn into a struggle to survive instead of a joyous bonding nurturing experience.

    There is so much more that could and should be said about the mother/infant bond...