When I’m shopping, a tiny voice in my head says, “Try that on.”
When I’m listening to the radio, it asks, “How about the oldies station?”
It’s my mom’s voice, and I can hear it even when she’s hundreds of miles away at home in Atlanta.
I have a button that says, “Stop me, please, before I become my mother!” But I think it’s too late.
I’ve embraced it. If I’m destined to become anyone, I’m glad it’s the woman who passed her shoe size and musical soundtrack collection on to me.
I’m also glad to follow in the footsteps of the woman who dropped me off at day care on the way to work. A spring study from Harvard Business School found that women raised by working mothers are more likely to earn higher wages and hold supervisory positions in the workplace later on.
“It didn’t matter to us if she worked for a few months, one year, or worked 60 hours per week during your whole childhood,” said Kathleen McGinn, who was quoted in a Harvard Business School article about the study she conducted with colleagues.
If mothers worked in any job before their kids were 14, the children felt the advantages later on. The benefits weren’t limited to daughters of working mothers. Their sons went on to contribute more to household chores and care more for family members.
The choice to work is personal and often not a choice at all. Most women are there, not in the name of feminism, but to earn money or pursue a career.
But that’s part of the beauty of these results. Women won, whether their mothers worked paycheck to paycheck or made six-figure salaries. Harvard’s study didn’t just cover women in the corporate world or women in the United States. It included data from across 24 countries with varying attitudes about gender roles. Role models are role models.
My mom encouraged me to speak up in class. She enrolled me in coed soccer in elementary school instead of the all-girls team. (Only now do I realize the latter was no accident.) After years of listening to her talk on the phone with colleagues, her confident voice is the one I rehearse before dialing.
The majority of young women today grew up with mothers who worked. This situation is normal, not radical, and the results of this study only confirm a logical progression of events. College students like me have come of age during feminist hashtag campaigns and discussions about “leaning in” and whether “having it all” means anything at all.
Still, the narrative of working motherhood remains tinged with guilt.
Sixty percent of people believe children are better off with a parent at home, according to a Pew survey released in 2014. And a Pew study from the year before reported that the majority of young women — 63 percent of those 18 to 32 — “think that having children will make it harder for them to advance in their job or career.”
However, other studies show that children of working mothers are just as happy and healthy as those raised by moms at home. (I think I turned out OK.) And, as Harvard’s McGinn says, “There are very few things, that we know of, that have such a clear effect on gender inequality as being raised by a working mother.”
So there’s no reason to feel guilty.
My first office was my mom’s. It’s where I did my homework while she worked. At the time, the glass ceiling didn’t mean anything to me, but I’m glad my elementary-school eyes saw my mom at her desk between multiplication tables.
(Clare Lombardo is a junior studying English at the University of Pennsylvania and the RealArts intern with The Inquirer Editorial Board.)
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