Mothers' attitudes toward maternal employment, maternal well-being, maternal sensitivity and children's socioemotional outcomes when mothers engage in different amounts of employment
The relations among mothers’ attitudes about the effects of maternal employment on children, psychological well-being, sensitivity and children’s socioemotional development were examined for mothers who worked full-time (extensively) from age 6 months on, mothers who were not employed, and mothers who worked part-time or inconsistently during their children’s early years. Longitudinal observations of 1213 mothers and children in the NICHD Study of Early Child Care from age one month to first grade were analyzed using structural equation models. As predicted, mothers and children benefited when maternal attitudes were consistent with mother’s actual employment status. Among extensively employed mothers, those with positive attitudes about employment had better psychological well-being; among mothers who were not employed, those who believed that maternal employment would have negative consequences for children’s development reported better psychological well-being. For mothers who worked inconsistently or part-time, maternal attitudes did not predict their psychological well-being. These patterns held when mothers were classified by amount of employment during child’s first 12 months, the child’s first three years, or the entire preschool period. In all the employment groups, mothers’ psychological well-being, in turn, predicted maternal sensitivity in mother-child interaction when children were 36 months old, but not at first grade. Maternal wellbeing mediated the relations between mothers’ attitudes and mother-reported child outcomes at both phases. Better psychological well-being predicted fewer problem behaviors and greater social competence as rated by mothers, but the relations of maternal well-being and sensitivity to caregiver/teacher-reported child outcomes were inconsistent. The relations among mothers’ psychological well-being, sensitivity, and child socioemotional outcomes did not differ across the employment groups.