Doing what she thinks is best: Maternal psychological wellbeing and attaining desired work situations


maternal depression, maternal employment, maternal stress, maternal wellbeing, work–family balance


In this study we explore the gap between preferred and actual work situations for mothers of young children. We further examine the effects of not meeting desired work situation preferences on mothers’ depression and parenting stress over time. Using data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care (1141 families) our findings indicate up to 71 percent of mothers in this sample did not achieve their preference. After controlling for marital status, ethnicity, education, income-to-needs, perceived costs of employment, and social support, both intra-individual and inter-individual assessments of the gap between a mother’s ideal and actual employment significantly predicted depression across the first three years of parenthood. Mothers’ employment hours and preferences for employment predicted parenting stress, but social support buffered this effect. We tested preliminary distinctions between maternal under-employment and over-employment and discuss implications for home and work.

Original Publication Citation

Holmes, E. K., Erickson, J. J., and Hill, E. J. (2012). Doing what she thinks is best: Maternal psychological well being and attaining desired work situations. Human Relations, 65(4), 501-522.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Human Relations




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor