- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2011

Culture Challenge of the Week: When Money Trumps Motherhood

“But Mom, I don’t wanna eat breakfast at school! Why can’t I stay home and eat?” wailed 9-year-old Kirsten. She gave her mom a plaintive look and waited for her to answer.

Connie was miffed. I don’t need this, she thought.

An engineer and mother of two, she had scaled back to part-time work when Kirsten was born. It was ideal - professional continuity, business networks and limited work hours so she could stay involved in her children’s busy lives.

At her most recent performance review, Connie’s boss stressed that career advancement required full-time work. If she would bump back up to full time, he would give her the most demanding projects so she would get ahead faster. Of course, the time commitment would be demanding, too.

It looked good to Connie. She thrived on positive feedback at work - but received almost none in motherhood. She loved diving into a project, focusing without interruption - a rare experience with kids around. Her job made her feel needed and valued. Mothering garnered no such praise from her friends and co-workers.

So Connie said yes. An extra 15 or 20 work hours every week shouldn’t matter too much to her husband and kids.

They’d adjust, right?

But Kirsten didn’t - and Connie failed to look beyond the “breakfast” complaint and see her daughter’s heartache again that morning.

How to Save Your Family by Embracing Motherhood

Connie missed the point - Kirsten’s reluctance was not about breakfast, but about time, family and relationships.

Kids need their moms - at every stage. A mother’s gift of time lays a strong foundation for healthy adulthood, built on love, security, affirmation and significance.

In a child’s first year, mom’s full-time presence is crucial.

A new international study from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development sounds the alarm over mothers, like those in the United States and the United Kingdom, who rush back to work - even part time - before their children are a year old. Compared to children of stay-at-home moms, kids of working moms had more limited vocabularies by age 5 and showed significant deficits in reading and math by age 7.

Earlier research links a child’s time in day care with heightened aggressiveness and behavioral problems. Surprisingly, the children of better-educated moms are “even more affected” in both achievement and behavior. Children whose mothers returned to work within six months suffered the most.

The study contrasts starkly with a 2010 report, led by the Columbia University School of Social Work, that claimed children suffer no harm when mothers return to work within three months of birth. That conclusion, however, stands on shaky legs. Researchers, in effect, dismissed the negative effects on children’s cognitive and social development by offsetting them against the benefits of higher income, career progress for mom and quality day care. (As if an infant would value mom’s promotion over a stronger attachment to mom.)

Feminists and employers relentlessly pressure women to return to work too early or, as in Connie’s case, to replace part-time work with full-time hours while their children still need time and attention.

The vast majority - 62 percent - of working moms, however, want to be their children’s primary caregivers and would prefer part-time work to full-time employment, according to the Pew Research Center.

It’s common sense, really. The best moms are most responsive to their children - but responsiveness takes physical presence, first of all. It also takes knowledge - a function of time. Only by spending time with our children will we learn to read their cues and respond to their needs.

It’s not only young children who need their moms, however. Our older children confront a bewildering blur of social problems, from pornography to sexualized fashions and explicit entertainment to drugs and violence. The casualties of poorly mothered children surround us.

Parents want to do right by their kids - according to the Pew Research Center, 82 percent of us say family is the most important thing in our lives, bar none.

If that’s true for you, moms, then this Mother’s Day, commit to giving your children more of what they really need - you.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosave yourfamily.com.

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