Back in the 1980s, when many of us first had kids, newspapers and magazines were filled with stories about what was described as the epic battle of our generation — between mothers who worked and those who stayed home. No matter which side you were on, it was a classic lose-lose situation. Working mothers felt guilty because they weren't there when the kids came home from school (never mind that the paycheck they earned helped pay the mortgage). And mothers who stayed home felt they didn't get the respect they deserved for being the mainstays of the parents association and other community volunteer groups.
By the end of that decade, it was clear that this was more than a demographic blip: the majority of mothers of children under six were in the work force. But our conflicted feelings haven't faded, even now that those pioneer latchkey kids are on their own. Every time a new study comes out on the pros and cons of working vs. not working, women on either side of this divide feel the results are a personal reflection on the choices they made.
A recent example is a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology that says that children of working mothers are more likely to be obese. The British researchers followed a group of adults born in 1958. They found that the children of this cohort were 50 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than their parents. What could explain this trend? The researchers looked at a range of generational differences and zeroed in on mothers' full-time employment. They speculated that the kids might be overweight because the mothers had less time to cook and prepare healthy meals. Moms who were overweight were also more likely to have overweight kids.
This isn't the final word on the topic, of course. Most experts think that there are many causes for the increase in childhood obesity, including too little exercise and too much time in front of TV and computer screens. But if you're a mom reading this, you're probably feeling guilty right now anyway because that's what moms do even when the kids are gone.