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Hardworking moms = happy marriages

Let me premise this post by saying that my comments are not intended in any way to belittle moms who stay at home. In fact, I think stay-at-home moms are some of the hardest working people. My mom was one and I commend her for it.

I want to focus on the narrow topic of moms who have made the decision to work outside the home and the impact of their workload on their marriages.

With that disclaimer aside, the Journal of Family Psychology published a study last month with interesting results. The study found that, while stress is generally bad for relationships, “[w]orking moms tend to be happier with their marriages when they are shouldering heavy workloads on the job,” particularly when the moms enjoy their jobs.

The converse is not true, however: “when dads’ on-the-job workloads rise, both they and their wives tend to become less satisfied with their marriages.” This is true, according to the study, regardless of how much dad likes his job.

Why? The study didn’t provide a clear-cut reason. It also didn’t define precisely what kind of “heavy workload” made working moms’ marriages happier. Importantly, it also noted that other factors — such as whether a spouse supports mom’s external workload and the quality of mom’s workload — are important in determining whether that heavy workload will increase or decrease marital happiness. The study also looked only at women who were more likely to be career-oriented in the first place.

So, assuming a mom who is already career-oriented has a supportive spouse and a quality workload, why is her marriage likely to be happier when she has a heavier external workload?

I doubt that it is the longer hours away from the family that make the positive difference for a working mom, although a mom can certainly benefit to some extent from the personal autonomy created by a job outside the home. Maybe it is because a mom who works longer hours outside the home is likely to have a husband who takes on more household chores, a shift that research suggests leads to higher marital satisfaction. Or maybe it is because a mom with a heavy workload outside the home has a more egalitarian relationship with her partner.

But perhaps, as comments responding to a blogger’s thought-provoking post on how to “get your groove back” after a slump theorize, a working mom’s happiness is tied to whether she is fully engaged at work (“boredom breeds discontent”) and how attuned she is to her personal career development (“it is far, far too easy to lose track of what you wanted out of life”). I think they are right.

It is easier, I think, to lose sight of your career goals when you have a lighter workload. And within the legal profession, it is often part-time attorneys — and often moms — who get less prestigious and engaging assignments.  Sometimes, it seems, by working reduced and flexible schedules, a mom seems to end up shortchanging herself both at home and in the office.

Another mom attorney mentioned to me recently that, while working a reduced schedule, she rarely felt the satisfaction of working a full day and felt like she was always on call. Now working a fulltime schedule again, she feels more satisfied at work and, while she is no longer at home as many hours, it is easier for her to disconnect from the office during those hours.

So my theory is that many of the moms who have heavy workloads outside the home are generally happier with their marriages because they are more intellectually stimulated. Because they are challenged. Because they are not bored.  Because they are actively pursuing — and attaining — what they want out of life. And because, at the end of the day (whatever time that may be), a mom with a heavy workload can come home — whether energized or exhausted — satisfied that she has put 100 percent effort into that day and can then put in some dedicated time with her family.

And this makes moms happy. Which, in turn, makes their families happy and their marriages more fulfilling. Because, as the saying goes, “when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”