This parenting gig is hard, people; there’s no denying that. But according to a new study released by Science Daily, the stress of it all may be waring more on moms than dads — at least in households where the mother takes on more parenting responsibilities.
The study, conducted by a team of researchers from Cornell University, the University of Minnesota, and Minnesota Population Center, used diary data from 2010, 2012, and 2013 American Time Use Surveys which polled over 12,000 parents. Researchers examined various types of parenting activities and individual well-being during these activities performed by mothers and fathers.
“The good news from our study is that parents generally enjoy being with their kids,” said University of Minnesota researcher Ann Meier to Science Daily, “but the bad news is that mothers enjoy it less than fathers because they do more of the ‘work’ and less of the ‘fun’ parenting tasks.”
If all of this sounds familiar, I am right there with you.
Parenting is hard work, 24/7. And while I’d never discredit my husband’s role in my daughters’ lives, I do often feel that I do more of the “work” sometimes. I’m referring, of course, to the not-so-fun parts of parenting like disciplining our daughters, ensuring they spend at least 20 minutes a day doing some sort of educational activity, keeping the house clean, staying on top of the laundry (a seemingly impossible feat), bathing them every night, schlepping them from store to store during errands … need I go on?
Of course not all of it is stressful. The playdates for instance are just as fun for me as they are for the girls. But the reinforcing rules and getting my threenager to SIT STILL and actually focus on one task at a time? Yeah, that’s the opposite of fun.
Studies show that dads are absolutely taking on more of the household duties these days than they used to, as parenting roles are beginning to converge. But as this latest study proves, moms are still bearing the brunt of things, and taking on more of the “unfun” parenting responsibilities than we may need to.
Part of this is somewhat natural. For instance, study authors found that mothers are more likely to be the ones called on 24/7 by their littles. (In my experience, that little tid bit is dead on.) The end result? Moms suffer far more from interrupted sleep and down time, which inevitably causes more stress and unhappiness in the long-run.
Fathers are also more likely to have assistance when they’re with the kids, the study found, which makes for a less stressed-out dad overall. Moms, on the other hand, are more often on kid duty by themselves.
According to researchers, it’s this overall combo — the lack of sleep, the loss of free time, and the differences in actual activities that moms and dads pursue — that leave moms feeling “less happiness, more stress and greater fatigue” when with their kids, say study authors.
And parents spend a LOT of times with their kids these days. Much more, in fact, than we did just 50 years ago. According to a University of California, Irvine study, back in 1965, mothers spent a daily average of 54 minutes on kid-oriented activities. versus dads who spent a whopping daily average of 16 minutes with their kids.
Over time, that gap has thankfully started to close. By 2012, moms were spending 104 minutes per day with their kids and dads spent 59 minutes per day caring for their children, the team reported in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
Still, it’s clear we still have some work to do in terms of improving the happiness and stress levels of moms overall.
So how do we fix this imbalance? Perhaps as moms we need to dole out some of the “work” aspects of parenting either to our partners, to outside help or simply demand less of ourselves. Of course laundry needs to be folded, errands need to be run, and the kids need to be bathed; but does it all need to be done right this second? Maybe that load of laundry can wait a bit so you can curl up with a good book for 30 minutes after the kids go to bed. Or maybe you can you use some of that precious free time to watch your favorite reality show? Maybe, instead of taking all of the kids to run errands, you can split the list with your partner, so each of you divvy up the kids and the responsibilities, if you’re used to taking them all on yourself.
If there’s anything that I’m beginning to realize in my soon-to-be four years of parenting, it’s how important “me time” is to my well being. I simply can’t do it all — no matter what I think the other moms are doing. And that’s okay.
It’s time to find our own version of a “happiness balance,” so that we aren’t just telling others how much we love spending time with our kiddos, but actually meaning it when we do.