Do Children Benefit from Staying at Home?

Do children really benefit from staying home with mom? Does it matter what type of care you put your children in? Science has answers! :)

Going back to work after childbirth is maybe one of the hardest choices you have to make as a new mother. Sometimes, you have no options – the financial situation requires you to go back. But what if you don’t “have” to go back? For me, this decision was the hardest I had to make, especially because I didn’t have to go back. In fact, I’m not even working; I’m actually paying the university to allow me to come in every day.

This topic is close to my heart, and so I was very happy that my blog research led me to a meta-analysis done a couple of years ago by Rachel G. Lucas-Thompson and her colleagues. A meta-analysis is an analysis of studies, and it’s kind of a scientific summary of research findings.

This meta-analysis found that when mothers go back to work after the child is one year old, there are virtually no effects on the child’s academic achievement and problem behaviour. Academic achievement (i.e., grades) and problem behaviour (e.g., aggression, depression, acting out, etc.) are often considered to reflect the child’s cognitive and emotional adjustment, respectively. Sure, it’s not the most accurate measure or the most nuanced, but it really is a great “quick and dirty” screener for children’s ability to cope with school – both cognitively and emotionally.

The meta-analysis further found that early employment (after the child was one year old but before the child was 3) was actually associated with higher academic achievement and fewer internalizing behaviours (e.g., depression). Crazy, right? The authors thought so too, so they looked at other variables. They found that going to daycare between 1 and 3 years of age was beneficial for children who came from single-parent families or welfare families. Which makes sense – for these families, any income is crucial, and so if mom went back to work things were financially a bit better at home. In this case, it’s not necessarily the daycare environment itself, but probably other family processes that account for the better results for those kids. Also, there was a negative effect of going back to work before the baby was one year old, again, supporting calls for an extended maternity leave.

Of course, the quality of the care the child receives when mom returns to work is very important. Here is a quote from a fairly recent study done by quite a few big names in the field working with the NICHD project[1]: “A relatively consistent finding across 40 years of child-care research is that quality and type of care are related to cognitive, academic, and language functioning in young children”. This study found that the effects of daycare quality still resonated with the children when they were adolescents.

So in summary, go ahead and go back to work, but pay mind to who is taking care of your child when you are at work.

I want to hear your story! Tell me about when you went back to work.

[1] The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is a US government agency responsible for a great many studies done on all aspects of child development. They are awesome.

@2015 - Gal Podjarny