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Motherhood: Making Choices About Working

The Costs of Working for You
Now comes the other side of the balance sheet: the benefits of working need to be netted against its costs. Physically demanding work - involving heavy lifting or exertion, or standing on your feet all day - has been associated with poorer health in mothers, especially during the first year after giving birth. Jobs that offer the employee little say in when and how specific tasks are done, especially low-level clerical positions, are a risk factor for cardiovascular problems in mothers. Moving from physical to mental health, you could feel uneasy, worried, or even upset at being separated from your child. Or guilty, perhaps, at not being the sort of mother you want to be.

If nothing else, working means spending less time with your child, and sometimes missing special moments or milestones, like the first steps. To have as much time as possible with her children, an employed mother typically sleeps about five or six hours a week less than a stay-at-home mom. Working also means spending more time in traffic (unless you work at home), with the aggravations and expenses of commuting.

Meanwhile, the hassles of investigating, managing, or changing childcare usually land on you; as the difficulty of arranging for childcare rises, a mother's health tends to decline. Once everything is set up and work looks like clear sailing, your job still gets disrupted when a child is sick or needs to be taken to a doctor, and your partner can't or won't handle it. And if you are already heavily burdened, such as by a colicky baby who keeps you up at night, or by personal health problems, a job could be the proverbial straw that breaks your back. Adding it all up, it's not surprising that full-time employed mothers of infants report greater stress than do full-time homemakers with infants - and they often neglect their own health to cope with their total workload.

The Costs of Working for Both You and Your Family
Stresses from work can wear you down so you have less to give at home. Business travel causes separations that could be upsetting to you and your children. Going to work also means needing to find places and occasions to pump breast milk if you have continued nursing. These hassles are a major reason why returning to work (especially full-time) usually leads a mother to wean earlier than she otherwise would, which means losing the benefits of breast-feeding. In addition to the ways that nursing can be emotionally fulfilling for a mother and her child, continuing to breast-feed seems to help shield a woman from the effects of stress. The other benefits for children include a boost in IQ and fewer illnesses - some of the reasons why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers nurse for at least one year, and the World Health Organization recommends at least two years.

For the family as a whole, mornings and evenings get especially frenzied when both parents work. At the beginning of the day, everybody zooms around getting dressed, packing lunches, and schlepping kids to childcare. At the other end of the day, you've got to shove so much into a small sliver of time: hugs and kisses for children, questions like How did it go at preschool? or Was Rory nice to you today? and housework tasks that get pushed into the evening or weekend. When - finally - you get the kids to bed and the last dishes done or the laundry folded, it's hard to have much energy left for yourself or your relationship.

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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