The latest research, released last week by the Institute of Child Health, claims children of working mothers have a greater chance of “picking up unhealthy eating habits”.

On the forum of the community

website Mumsnet.com, more than 300 mothers expressed their annoyance at the ongoing series of studies linking mothers who work to their children’s poorer health, diet and behaviour, as

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well as reduced educational ability.

Co-founder of Mumsnet, Justine Roberts, sums it up: “It’s clear that working mothers are sick of surveys that appear to tell them they are doing a bad job of bringing up their children.”

She says: “In any case, there have been a number of contradictory reports that show there are benefits for children who have working mothers.”

Research has revealed that children who have good quality childcare, whether a nursery or childminder, instead of staying at home full-time with mum, can be less stressed, display better behaviour, and do better on average at primary school up to the age of seven.

An improved family income, where both parents work, has also been shown by a study to be linked to better nutrition for children.

“And let’s not forget that working mums also offer a good role model for children,” adds Roberts.

Indeed, it would appear that the impact of a mother’s employment status on a child’s life and health is not at all clearcut.

Dr Anna McGee, a senior lecturer in developmental psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University, says: “As is so often the case, there are too many contradictory and sometimes sensationalised reports that make generalised claims but do not take into account numerous very relevant factors”.

She adds: “When you look at the link between a working mother and the welfare and development of her child there are many varying facts to consider.

“For example, how many hours does the mother work? What kind of care does her child attend when she’s at work? What are the mother’s career expectations, and does the mother need to work for financial reasons?

“From my observations, just because a mother is working it doesn’t mean that the child will be adversely affected.”

For Dr McGee, there are a number of keys to bringing up a healthy, educated, stable and well-rounded child.

These include good parenting skills, a well-balanced life/work timetable and the opportunity for the mother to be “satisfied and content in her life”.

“You could be a stay-at-home mum or dad, a part-time working parent or a mother who works five days a week and still have the ability to harness good parenting skills,” she says.

“These skills include being consistent with your child’s care, being responsive to your child’s needs, and offering a structure in a child’s life that promotes confidence, responsibility, good health and many other positives.

“The situation in which most children thrive is one in which there is a well-balanced structure of care, be it mostly at home with a parent who has good care skills, or a mix of being at home and attending a good-quality childcare environment.”

She contrasts this with the sort of circumstances in which children’s upbringing might be compromised.

She says: “The clearest evidence of this comes in families where both parents are unemployed and in receipt of state benefits. While both parents are therefore stay-at-home parents, statistically their children’s health, diet, education, socialisation and behaviour is poorer on average.

“This could be because of many reasons such as a reduced income that affects diet and activity choices, a lack of parental motivation and a poorly structured daily routine.

“I’m not suggesting that all stay-at-home parents or parents on a low income do not do a good job of bringing up their children, but the statistics do paint a clearer picture.”

In fact, McGee goes on to champion the ability of the working mum to provide the ideal environment for nurturing children.

She says: “The skills that many working mothers develop, such as good time management, multi-tasking and an ability to focus, are ideal for managing the busy timetable of a family’s working/home life.

“These mums are very good at wearing two hats – one for getting on with their work while the children are at school or in childcare, and the other for when the children are at home.

“The chances are, too, that a working mother who feels she has a rewarding job and is providing financially for her children will be more relaxed and focused when she is with her children. In a balanced situation, where a child spends quality time with their parent and also in good childcare, they are more likely to thrive.”

Nor can the role of the father be underestimated. Roberts says: “While many of the studies reported focus on the mother and whether she works or stays at home to care for the kids, the father’s part in the childcare seems to be overlooked.”

This is not representative of modern life, she says. “It would be better to look at the overall care structure of the entire family. After all, there should now be flexible working opportunities open to both mum and dad.”

Again, McGee is in agreement. “Balance in modern family lives is so very important for a child’s best development. If both mum and dad play a part in offering good parenting, then all the better.

“At the end of the day a child’s best interests can be served in all kinds of ways, with good quality parenting, good quality childcare and support from extended families. But to focus only on the working mother – and the generalised working mother at that – seems ridiculous.”

Case study: Janice Anderson

When Janice Anderson was growing up in the 1960s, her mum, Barbara Harman, of Milngavie, didn’t consider there was an option of going out to work.

“Very few mums did work back then,” Barbara says, “and anyway my husband was earning and we got by on one wage. Really, though, I loved staying at home with my four children.”

It could not have been more different when her eldest child, Janice Anderson, decided to have children. Anderson, of Killearn, continued to work, first as a freelance hairdresser and then as the owner of Diva Hairdressing in Bearsden.

Anderson, 51, who has three sons – Sean, 24, Scott, 22, and nine-year-old Harry – says: “With all three boys I worked for financial reasons. With the first two it was a necessity and now I work in part because the income brings the family a better lifestyle. But I also love my work and I couldn’t imagine not doing it.”

Both women believe they did the best in bringing up stable and happy children.

Barbara says: “Staying at home I could give the children a lot of attention, but I still had lots of domestic chores. We didn’t have a washing machine or even a fridge, and certainly not a dishwasher. We had less money, too, and I suppose we missed out on the luxuries that families have today but we managed and remained content.”

Meanwhile, Janice feels lucky to be a “fulfilled working mum”. She says: “I think I’m a better mum because I work. I’m satisfied in my job and so when I spend time with the children I’m more relaxed and happy.

“But I couldn’t have managed to work without the support of great nurseries and childminders through the years, as well as my mum and my husband. I think the children have benefited from a range of good childcare and from a better family income. I think we have a good balance of family life.”