Although many working moms consider their babies to be the center of their universe, their little ones' attitudes aren't necessarily the key to their happiness, a new study finds.
According to researchers from the University of Ghent in Belgium, working moms' well-being depends more on whether their psychological needs are met. Specifically, if a working mom feels like she's doing a good enough job interacting with her child, feeling a sense of freedom and choice in what she does, all the while having a warm, affectionate relationship with her baby, she'll feel happier. But if she's feeling inadequate, under pressure and alienated from her social circles while trying to balance work and family, her well-being suffers.
While the study found that babies' temperaments don't have much of an effect on their moms' happiness, if the children are extroverted, they may help their moms feel a bit more positive about parenting and be less hard on themselves. "More positive perceptions of the child's temperament were found to buffer to some extent against the affective difficulties associated with a lack of need satisfaction, high need frustration and maternal self-criticism," says Katrijn Brenning, Ph.D., lead author of the study. "Our findings point to a complex interplay between parent and child characteristics in the prediction of maternal well-being."
To conduct the study, which is published in Springer's Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers had 126 mothers record diary entries for five days during a time in their life that researchers knew would be very stressful: the time after their maternity leave had ended and they had to drop off their babies at daycare for the first time.
To help currently stressed-out working moms, Dr. Brenning recommends moms seek experiences with their children, such as fun activities that promote bonding, to help them satisfy their own psychological needs. She also suggests that moms shouldn't be too hard on themselves about how they're doing as parents—although we can all agree, that last part is easier said than done.