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Working Mothers Give Themselves Lower Parenting Marks

There has been a shift in attitudes among American mothers over the last decade about full-time employment. According to the Pew Research Center, more working mothers now say part-time work is the ideal situation, and they give themselves lower marks as parents than stay-at-home moms.

The debate over what's best for mothers — to stay at home or go out and work — has resurfaced with a new survey.

"The main challenge is being there for my children, their events, all their ballet and softball games, yet run my business," a working mother says. "My ideal thing will be I can work part-time and be at home the rest of the time," another mother adds.

What these mothers told NBC News echoed what a larger sample of working and stay-at-home moms said nationwide. In the Pew survey, 60 percent of the employed mothers said part-time work would be best for them and their families. Only 48 percent felt that way in 1997. Among stay-at-home moms, nearly half said their set-up was ideal, up from 39 percent a decade ago.

"The old cliché ... 'you blink, and your kids are in college,' [meaning, they grow up so fast] came so true. I wanted to be more present, be there for their activities and not see life pass me by," Rachel Hamman says.

The mother of two children quit her job as an investment adviser two years ago to raise her children. She chronicled her experience in a book, Bye-Bye Boardroom. She says with the variety of choices now available for mothers — work full-time, part-time,have a flexible schedule, or stay home — having it all is simply a question of how you define "all."

"Women can have it all, just not necessarily all at once," she says. "I think sequencing in and out is very feasible." Hamman says it's important for moms to make time for themselves "whether that's carving out 20 minutes to go work out, to take a walk, to go paint, to go write. It's very essential because I think it's not just about motherhood. It's about motherhood not at the expense of personhood."

But Leslie Bennetts says women are wasting their potential when they shun the workforce to care exclusively for their kids.

"It's about the risks of economic dependency for women, which are very dangerous to the welfare of their families, but it's also about the benefits of work," she says.

Bennetts, author of a recent book titled The Feminist Mistake, criticized the Pew survey for asking women about their feelings rather than their experiences, and she rejects their findings.

"Polling results like this reflect our cultural mythology, but they don't reflect the facts," she says. "The facts are working women are happier than stay-at-home mothers. Research shows that working women are healthier than stay-at-home mothers, full-time homemakers experience a significant improvement in their mental and emotional health when they go back to paid work."

Bennetts is especially upset about the survey question that asked mothers to rate how good a job they were doing as parents. Those working full-time gave themselves lower parenting marks, and Bennetts says other surveys indicate they shouldn't judge themselves that harshly.

"If you compare the children of working moms and the children of full-time homemakers, as social scientists have done for 40 years, there is no advantage to children of the mothers being at home," she says. "They don't turn out any better. So I think working women are needlessly beating themselves up with all that guilt that they don't feel that they are good mothers."

Leslie Bennetts says it's important for working mothers to find work that interests them. That helps them feel that the time they spend away from their kids is worthwhile. She hopes the results of this poll will motivate businesses around the country to create more flexible employment options and accommodations for working mothers, so they don't have to choose between job and family.