Are people really looking down on the children of working moms?

We’ve all heard plenty about the “Mommy Wars,” the pop-culture-type tension surrounding moms who work outside the home, and those who stay at home full time with their children.

But this is new.

A Kansas State University study, conducted by psychology graduate student Jennifer Livengood, suggests that it isn’t just the mothers who are being judged. As a part of the study, participants were asked to make an evaluation about the mom-child relationship based on how much the mom worked and how soon she returned to work after having a baby. The university's news release about the research explains how the study was conducted:

“Each participant first listened to one of three interviews that reflected a working mother, a stay-at-home mother, and what the researchers called a middle mother.”

In her interview, the “working mom” stated she returned to a full-time job two weeks after the birth of her child. The “middle mother” took a year and a half off, and then returned to part-time work while slowly increasing her hours. The “stay-at-home” mom stopped working after the birth of her child.

After watching the interview, all participants saw the same video of the mom interacting with her child, then answered a series of questions to determine their perception of the mom, and whether or not her child was “well-adjusted.” Participants were also asked to judge the relationship between the child and the mother.

According to the Kansas State news release, the researcher found that while participants didn't differentiate between the stay-at-home mother and middle mother, they did devalue the working mother in comparison. The similar ratings for the two mothers might indicate that individuals understand women need a compromise. Findings also showed that not only did the participants devalue the mother who worked outside the home full time, but those negative perceptions also extended to the child and their relationship.

I must admit, I didn’t like the looks of this research at first glance.

All research is limited in some way or another, but after reading through university’s description of the study, I was unimpressed by the demographics of the participants: all were undergraduate students, and almost all of them had no children. It would be interesting to see how results would change if the researchers had included several people who were a little older — and more parents.

But then again, we all have our perceptions.

I recognized my lack of sympathy for the working mother who returned to a full-time job two weeks after having a baby. In my mind, it was perfectly fine for her to do that if she couldn’t afford otherwise, but not if she was working to finance a luxury SUV or a McMansion in the suburbs.

Though not shown in this study, I also recognize that there are people who hold perceptions of kids who have stay-at-home moms — those who have spent little or no time in a daycare or preschool setting. There’s an argument that these children won’t be as ready for the structure and educational standards of kindergarten.

Of course, this could be true for some children, and completely untrue for others.

What would really be an interesting part of this research would be to find out from each participant if they can determine why they evaluated the child, and the relationship to his mother, the way they did. That type of exercise would be useful in helping people recognize judgments and perceptions they hold.

It would also be interesting to see what kind of results the researchers would get if they went back to these participants in 5, 10, or 15 years and see if their beliefs change as they have children of their own, and are possibly far along in a career — or a life of a stay-at-home parent.

Do you think the study is representative of what the general population believes? Do you think the study perpetuates the Mommy Wars? What judgments do you recognize in yourself?