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To work or stay-at-home? The parenting paradox.

There's no shortage of opinions about who & how parents stay home to raise kids. But what does research say? Despite changing attitudes to parental roles, parents’ employment remains very gendered, with fathers far more likely to be working full-time than mothers.

While mums & dads in Australia work the same on average (~75 hrs/week), how that work is broken down is where we see the difference. The majority of fathers' work tends to be outside the home, in paid employment. Mothers, on the other hand, spend their time spread evenly across paid work, housework & childcare.

There are many reasons parents choose to stay-at-home or return to work. For some it will be a choice you make, for others, decisions are based on practical or financial reasons.

Some studies have found a link between long-stay childcare & increased child stress & decreased school performance (Note: other studies have found the opposite). Other research has found that while mothers who work full-time spend less time with their children, they trade quantity of time for quality time, engaging in more active & attuned interactions.

Moreover, working parents report less depression & anger than their stay-at-home counterparts. This may be because stay-at-home parents are often viewed as ‘not having a job’ despite the responsibility, energy & effort that comes with raising children all day, every day.

Regardless of how they split work & child care, research shows that children’s emotional health is highest when both parents believe that family should come first. Other factors linked to child well-being include parents that are physically available, fathers who are mentally present when playing (i.e. not distracted by work) & mothers who engage in self-care.

When it comes to it, what's best for you & your family is what matters most. Not everyone has the luxury of choosing between staying home or working. Make a decision that's right for you and don't worry about what strangers, your neighbour, or your brother-in-law thinks.

References: Gallup GFHS 2012; HILDA Report 10, 2015; Mumford et al 2020; Hsin & Felf, 2014; Friedman et al 2000

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