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All the ways girls benefit from having a working mom

Most women in the U.S. work outside the home, including 71% of mothers with children ages 18 and under.


Despite this fact, 60% of U.S. adults believe a child fares better with one parent at home. But when I talked to grown-up children who were raised by working mothers, I heard a different story.

According to them, their mothers prepared them well for successful, well-rounded adult lives. This was especially true for daughters.

I’m a working mother who raised two children, one of whom is now a working mother herself, so I know we often feel guilty. But when I interviewed scores of grown children and working mothers, and surveyed more than 1,000 people ages 23 to 44, I learned that there’s no need to feel guilt.

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Another validation for working mothers is a recent Harvard Business School study that found that women whose mothers worked earn 23% more than women whose mothers didn’t. And men whose mothers worked spent more time helping out at home. The researchers stated that growing up with a working mother is an ideal way to narrow the gender gap.

The research I conducted was for my book, My Mother, My Mentor: What Grown Children of Working Mothers Want You to Know. It showed definitively that many daughters benefit from having a working mother.

Here are 5 big ways that daughters benefit from having moms who work:

Inspiration

“It was an inspiration to me that my mother worked. I have huge respect for her,” recalled one daughter.

I found that working mothers have a special impact on their daughters. In my survey, more than half (53%) of daughters strongly agreed they were proud of their working mothers.

An interesting statistic: Another 20% of the daughters said they’d never even thought about their mothers working, because the fact that they worked was just a normal part of life.

Strong work ethic

Grown children of working mothers, both sons and daughters, said things like, “My mother never preached to us, but she taught us the importance of having a strong work ethic by demonstrating it every day.”

The survey results showed that while growing up, children tend to respect and appreciate the work their mothers do at home and on the job.

Fifty percent of the daughters said their working mother had been very helpful in instilling a strong work ethic, versus 32% of daughters whose mothers stayed at home.

Resilience

The working mothers I interviewed talked about their desire to give their children the skills to weather problems and difficult situations.

As one mother said of her daughter, “I wanted her to be able to handle anything that comes her way. I wanted her to be resilient. You never know what is going to happen.”

Working mothers seemed to feel more strongly about resilience than mothers who stayed at home: Forty-seven percent of the daughters with working mothers strongly agreed their mothers had taught them resilience, as opposed to 35% of the daughters whose mothers stayed at home.

Independence

“Mom was less involved, and since my sister and I were not micromanaged, we became more independent,” one adult daughter told me.

That independence doesn’t come only from the fact that a working mother isn’t around all the time: The adult children I talked to said that their working mothers encouraged independence. As a result, 56% of daughters of working mothers said their mothers had been very helpful in teaching them to be independent, compared to 35% of daughters whose mothers stayed at home.

A first and lifelong mentor

One adult daughter said her mother had become an even more valuable mentor as she got older: “Through all of my job searches and the setback of being laid off, [my mother] keeps telling me she has experienced these personally. She is more supportive now than she ever has been.”

In the survey, 35% of daughters said their working mothers were very helpful in providing a sounding board, versus 24% of daughters whose mothers stayed at home.

It’s about choice

Whether a woman works or not is a personal choice. But if she works, she shouldn’t be worried about the impact on her children.

Working mothers are doing a great job preparing their children for life. For daughters especially, a working mother is an original role model. Rather than feel guilty, working mothers should feel proud of themselves, because certainly the children are proud of their mothers.

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Pamela F. Lenehan was one of the first female partners on Wall Street, a former C-suite executive of an NYSE company and a high-tech startup. An avid believer in the power of women to lead as well as parent, she serves on the boards of three publicly traded firms, and is also the author of What You Don’t Know and Your Boss Won’t Tell You: Advice from Senior Female Executives on What You Need to Succeed. Her newest book is My Mother, My Mentor: What Grown Children of Working Mothers Want You to Know.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I don't mean thinking and planning about the lack of sleep, feeding schedule, or just the overall changes a new baby is going to bring. I'm talking about how we're going to handle excited family members and friends who've waited just as long as we have to meet our child. That sentence sounds so bizarre, right? How we're going to handle family and friends? That sentence shouldn't even have to exist.

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