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Jul 22, 2011

Why it’s Healthier for Both Parents to Be Flexible

By: Chelsea Gladden

Life can be a whirlwind when that first baby arrives leaving new parents with little sleep and plenty of decisions to make. One of the more challenging choices can be whether or not to return to work. Although the answer of what is right will be different for every family, it has long been assumed that having the mother as the primary caretaker at home is unequivocally better for the baby. However, according to a new report funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and reported by The Telegraph in London, “Children whose mothers return to work within the first year after birth are less likely to fight with their classmates or become anxious than if their mothers stay at home.”

In addition, the lead researcher Dr. Anne McMunn said that not only are moms less likely to become depressed, but children had less behavioral problems.

However, Dr. Fran Walfish, Child and Family Psychotherapist and author The Self-Aware Parent, disagrees with the study.

“My professional opinion is that it is healthier for children under the age of 5 years --when most kids begin Kindergarten-- if their moms stay home,” she told FlexJobs. “This relates directly to the attachment and healthy separation process. During the first 12 months of life the main objective is bonding between mother and infant.  These are critical months in which the mother is present and available to consistently respond warmly and accurately to the baby's needs.  This facilitates the child to develop trust in the world and feel safe and secure that when in need someone loving will be there for me.”

In fact, she argues that it’s still too soon to tell the effects of moms returning to work on kids later in their lives. “We need to look at the kind of relationships these kids are drawn to in adulthood.  Will they be attracted to a partner who splits attention and offers them crumbs in the relationship?  We want kids to grow up feeling they deserve a whole slice of pie, not crumbs.”

Despite the differences in perspectives, there is common ground that can be found for an alternative solution: Flexible working arrangements.

When asked if she believed that parents who have flexible working arrangements allowing them both more time with the kids can be a solution for this, Dr. Walfish said, “Yes. I do. I apologize to all the families who can't, but I do think two is best for most children. I can give you tons of examples of exceptions and plenty of folks will throw tomatoes at me, but my answer is a resounding YES.”

Dr. McMunn agrees. “If we can find ways to support families so that both parents can work and still combine child rearing and family life, then it is probably going to have a positive effect for children in terms of their socio-emotional behaviour,” she told The Telegraph.

But is finding flexible work a reality? Historically it has been difficult, although the flexible job landscape has been changing for the better in recent years with job sites dedicated to flexible work opportunities, such as FlexJobs. Unfortunately, many parents are still not aware of the growing depth and variety of jobs that offer flexibilities such as telecommuting, part-time and alternative schedules, and freelance contracts.

“They know that flexible positions are available, but most of them don't know where to look to find them,” Cheryl Palmer, a certified career coach and President of Call to Career told FlexJobs. “One major concern is finding employers who will give them flexibility so that they can juggle their schedules and not give short shrift to either the job or their home lives.”

Although a recent study conducted by Telework Research Network concluded that relatively few companies are allowing telecommuting in the United States, FlexJobs CEO Sara Sutton Fell notes the continuing increase in flexible postings that the FlexJobs research team is able to find.

“Our job listings for flexible positions have grown by 400%,” stated Fell. “What many people don’t realize is there are listings in 50+ career fields, entry-level to executive, part-time to full-time."

Flexible work options just might be the solution new parents need.

"Many families with working moms are doing absolutely fine," Walfish adds.  "Some have dads who work flexible schedules and are available to the children.  Others have long-term warm, fuzzy nannies employed or grandparents in place.  Without question, growing children need at least one stable adult figure who is physically and emotionally available to them." Flexible job options open a door to help parents and families share that role better.


Image: photostock /

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Categories: Expert Job Advice, Flexible Jobs, Work at Home Moms & Dads, Work-Life Balance
Tags: flexible job, flexible work, flexible work options, flexible schedule jobs, working mothers, working parents, flexible careers


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