The Effect of a Working Mother on Toddlers

By Martha Holden
Striking a balance between work and family is challenging.
Striking a balance between work and family is challenging.

The choice to stay at home or go back to work after birth confuses many mothers, especially because it affects a child’s development. Different studies report opposing findings on the effects of a working mother on a child’s development; there are both positive and negative effects. The choice to stay at home or go back to work is personal. However, your presence and involvement in your child’s early life is important, as it directly influences the child later in life.

Maternal Employment

Working mothers often spend little time with their infants, as most employers allow a maternity leave of approximately six weeks. According to David Pelcovitz, maternal employment affects children’s behavioral and cognitive growth. Working mothers often leave their parenting responsibilities to caregivers whose values and parenting styles may differ from theirs. Alternatively, caregivers are at times better disciplinarians, as they do not feel guilty and often have more experience with children.


Girls with working mothers perform better that those with unemployed mothers, writes Lois Wladis Hoffman, of the University of Michigan. According to Science Daily, working mothers are likely to have higher education qualifications and a source of income, which reduces their risk of depression in comparison with mothers who are unpaid. Working mothers also boost the family’s income, which positively affects the toddler’s development.


Children whose mothers go back to work at an early age have behavioral challenges and often give caregivers and teachers a hard time, according to Pelcovitz. A working mother spends little time with a child and, therefore, has limited influence on the child’s behavior. Additionally, research led by Jeanne Brooks-Gunn from Columbia's Teachers College indicates that children of mothers who work more than 30 hours a week have slower intellectual development (See reference 4).


Finding a balance between your career and family life can help ensure that your work does not affect your child’s development. John Ersmich, in an article on The Daily Mail, recommends that you spend as much time at home as you can. In case there is need for an added income, he recommends part-time employment. Choosing nannies with experience and positive recommendations from previous employers also helps ensure that your child gets proper care in your absence. Additionally, ensure that your caregiver can easily contact you or your spouse in case of an emergency.

About the Author

Martha Holden began writing professionally in 2002. She has contributed articles on food, weddings, travel, human resources/management and parenting to numerous publications. Holden holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Houston.