Scientists say that working mothers who are too critical of their parenting skills may be negatively affecting their own happiness. According to a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, a working mother’s sense of well-being diminishes when she feels incompetent, under-pressure and is isolated from her social circle.
Katrijn Brenning from the University of Ghent in Belgium said, “Our findings point to a complex interplay between parent and child characteristics in the prediction of maternal well-being.”
The study also revealed that her own baby’s temperament has minimal influence on the mother’s sense of well-being but having a more extrovert child does help some women to feel more positive about motherhood.
For the purpose of the study, the research team analysed five days of diary entries made by 126 mothers after their maternity leave ended and they had to leave their babies at a day-care facility for the first time. This is a stressful period for working mothers because it is usually the first time that they are separated from their children. With maternity leave over, they also need to learn how to balance their work and family lives effectively.
Researchers said that mothers should not be too hard on themselves about how they are faring as a mother and should search for activities with their baby that they enjoy, and create opportunities to spend with their offspring in a warm and affectionate way.
The positive influence and energy this creates could be favourable since it allows mothers to interact with their child in a more sensitive, patient, and positive fashion.
The researchers also believe that clinical counsellors should highlight to their female patients how important it is to ensure that their own psychological needs are met, amid the pressures of motherhood and work.
“Need frustration relates to daily distress and to more cold and intrusive parent-child interactions,” she said. The findings highlight how difficult it is for women whose personalities tend to shift towards the depressive and the self-critical to adjust to parenthood.
Brenning therefore thinks that prevention and intervention strategies should be in place to help such women cope in their first few months of parenthood.