8 Behaviors Working Mothers Teach Their Kids

By Loretta Rudd, Ph.D.

As we approach Working Mothers Day on May 8th, I reflect on my mothering of two children who are now 25 and 23. I was fortunate to be able to stay at home while they were preschoolers. While at home for five years caring for my preschool children and managing the household, I embarked on a doctoral degree, which required me to study, read and write in between caring for the children and caring for the household. My three-year old daughter asked for a desk and notebook for her fourth birthday and often replied to queries for assistance with, “Not now, I have studying to do!” I remember the pangs of guilt as if it was yesterday and then I’m reminded that when she was in fourth grade, she wrote her “What I’ll be doing in 10 years essay” stating she would be at Princeton University working on HER doctorate. The pangs of guilt replaced with an abundance of pride!

Recently a mom of two shared with me that she feels guilty for what she describes as “not always being home for my kids.” A year ago, she went back to work as a retail regional manager for the first time since her kids, both younger than 10, were born. Her husband supported her desire to work outside the home, even sharing with her some of the online research he had done about the effects working mothers have on their kids.

This mom isn’t alone in how she feels. The mother-child bond is profound and it’s natural to be as protective as possible over it. But plenty of studies have shown that a mom who works outside the home has influences on her children’s development that are just as profound and beneficial as those mothers who work at home managing the household and family.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, 70% of moms with kids younger than 18 worked outside the home, with 75% of them in full-time positions. Working moms are the sole earners or primary earners in 40% of U.S. homes.

It goes without saying, being a working mom carries immense and varied responsibility. In fact, switching roles between mom and employee ends up accruing about 98 hours of “on the clock” time every week, according to a Welch’s survey conducted in 2018. This is the same as 2.5 full-time jobs.

The COVID-19 pandemic amplified the demands on working moms even more – perhaps more than we’ve ever seen in recent history. As an April 24th op-ed in Today’s Parent put it, working moms have “suddenly become full-time

caregivers, teachers, tech support, and emotional support to our kids. We have to stand in as their friends … This is all on top of a full-time job that – true to its name – ordinarily takes up a full day.”

If working moms aren’t the best role models out there to show their kids what it means to grow and thrive, then who is?

On top of the nurturing and unconditional love all moms bring into their kids’ lives, moms working outside their home embody certain characteristics that are crucial in the process of becoming well rounded adults. A primary way children learn is by observing and imitating others, making these eight common working-mom behaviors important for kids to experience:

  1. Resilience in Tough or Unexpected Times
  2. Resourcefulness and Adaptability
  3. Prioritization
  4. Communication
  5. Diversity of Interests
  6. Caring for Others
  7. Accepting Help from Others
  8. Independence

Motherly reported findings from a 2015 Harvard University study showing that

adult women raised by working moms were more likely to be employed, work as supervisors, and earn more than women whose moms chose not to enter the workforce. The same study showed that adult men whose mothers worked were more likely to spend time taking care of family members and doing chores around the house after being raised in a family that promoted more equal levels of financial responsibilities.

In May 2018, four girls in Memphis, Tennessee, took it upon themselves to bring more public attention and appreciation to the positive roles working mothers have in their kids’ lives. These four girls, who are part of the same Girl Scouts Heart of the South council, created Working Mothers Day.

This year, Working Mothers Day is celebrated on May 8th and it always takes place the Friday before Mother’s Day, the national holiday to honor all mothers.

As Addie Mac Schild, one of the four co-founders, said, “Being raised by my working mom could end up having life-long positive effects on me. Even though I don’t exactly know yet what career I want to go into when I’m an adult, I know how important it is to learn today just by watching my working mom be who she is.”

Now that is profound impact. Happy Working Mothers Day to the working moms out there, and Happy Mother’s Day to every mom. This weekend is for all of you.

Dr. Loretta Rudd is a clinical associate professor in child development at the University of Memphis.