Are mothers the primary caretakers of children? How can we make it equal?
Are men just not that interested in taking care of kids, or only wanting to do the “fun” stuff (teaching, playing) instead of the hard things (diapers, keeping track of schedules, doctors’ appointments, grades, activities, grocery shopping, sick kids etc)?
Here are some must read links and quotes that show that a) it’s not and b) how we can make it so.
If you’ve always had a nagging suspicion that being a dad tends to be more fun than being a mom, well, it turns out that science is on your side. There’s a solid body of evidence to make the case that mothers report “less happiness, more stress, and greater fatigue” during the time they spend with children than fathers do, as Cornell University’s Kelly Musick reported in a 2016 study published in the American Sociological Review. She then identiﬁed a few key factors that help to explain why this is the case.
For starters, the job description for “father” is a whole lot more manageable than the job description for “mother.” There are more ﬂexible and more realistic models of what it means to be “a good dad” as compared to “a good mom.” As Musick and her co-authors explain, “Multiple models of good fathering have emerged emphasizing to varying degrees fathers’ contributions as breadwinners and caretakers. The existence of multiple acceptable models may make fathers less susceptible to role strain and difﬁcult-to-meet social expectations and leave more room for enjoyment. With one acceptable good mother model—committed, ever-available, deeply involved—mothers may more consistently derive meaning from parenting than fathers, but they may also experience more stress.” As Helen Hayward noted in a recent essay for Aeon, “It’s caring about the daily necessities—the circus of childhood—that is, for so many mothers, both fantastically demanding and weirdly rewarding.”
Then there’s the fact that mothers tend to spend more of their time with their kids taking care of the hands-on, hard work of parenting, freeing dads up to enjoy more of the fun stuff. Musick and her co-authors note, “Women do more of the day- to-day, time-inﬂexible basic care and management tasks related to childcare, and they spend a smaller share of their overall minutes with children in play.” Every time I read that, I can’t help but think of a classic Nancy White song lyric—the one about mommies being “for maintenance” and daddies “for fun.”
Now this may sound a bit inconsiderate and lazy on his part, but trust me, this is not the case. He picks up our child from school, plays with her, makes dinner, helps with homework most of the time, and if I yell loud enough he actually cleans before I get home. It is not that I don’t appreciate him, as he was so quick to assume. It’s that, unlike me, he gets to spend a lot more quality time with himself. He has the time to do the things he wants to do and can stop and give himself some TLC when needed because he overly relies on Superwoman.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of American households with dual-career couples rose from 34 percent in 1975 to 47.7 percent in 2014. Still, numerous studies have shown that women still take on the bulk of the housework. In fact, according to one such study out of Indiana University, highlighted by HuffPost, in most American homes “chore roles align with traditional thinking on masculinity and femininity ― even among couples where a woman is the primary or sole breadwinner and even in same-sex couples.” Long story short, women are still taking on the bulk of the household responsibilities while simultaneous bringing home the bacon. Who says you can’t have it all, right?
My husband and I divide our responsibilities based on our schedules. Since I come home from work earlier than my husband, I pick up our son from daycare, take care of homework with my daughter, and cook dinner. My husband then bathes the kids and puts them to sleep as I clean up after dinner. But while my husband is a fantastic dad and partner, I still do the majority of the houseworkand childcare in our home. I still do most of the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, the childcare, and the household management. I’m still the primary worrier, scheduler, and go-to multitasking parent. When we were childless our household responsibilities were split pretty evenly, but children added a lot more to my plate and only about half as much to his.
Honestly, another reason why responsibilities are so unevenly split in our household is because many things just don’t occur to my husband. He doesn’t think about what activities our kids should be doing, he doesn’t really realize our kids grow out of their clothes and shoes and need to go back-to-school shopping, and he isn’t concerned with their yearly well-visits and semi-annual dental checkups. These things are just simply not on his radar. I mean, I have to remind him to get a physical, so how can he remember that the kids need one? So with that in mind, here are just a few reasons why being a working mom is forever harder than being a working dad. Period.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, moms are doing a disproportionate amount of household chores. In 2016, on an average day, 85 percent of women did household activities such as “housework, cooking, lawn care, or financial and other household management,” compared to 69 percent of men. Furthermore, 49 percent of women did laundry and cleaning versus 19 percent of men, and 42 percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 68 percent of women. These statistics don’t lie, people; women are still doing the bulk of household chores while also working full-time outside the house.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, moms are doing a disproportionate amount of household chores. In 2016, on an average day, 85 percent of women did household activities such as “housework, cooking, lawn care, or financial and other household management,” compared to 69 percent of men. Furthermore, 49 percent of women did laundry and cleaning versus 19 percent of men, and 42 percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 68 percent of women. These statistics don’t lie, people; women are still doing the bulk of household chores while also working full-time outside the house. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, moms are doing a disproportionate amount of household chores. In 2016, on an average day, 85 percent of women did household activities such as “housework, cooking, lawn care, or financial and other household management,” compared to 69 percent of men. Furthermore, 49 percent of women did laundry and cleaning versus 19 percent of men, and 42 percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 68 percent of women. These statistics don’t lie, people; women are still doing the bulk of household chores while also working full-time outside the house.
The study also found around 70 per cent of mothers feel that they are often forced to play ‘bad cop’ when it comes to discipline, while dad plays ‘good cop’.
The results also found around six in 10 mothers have been so concerned with the issue of the children’s perception of their dad that they’ve raised it with their partner, while others said the subject had led to arguments in the past.
Around nearly three quarters of the 2,000 mothers studied said they tell the children off ‘far more’ than their partner ever does.
And more than half said their role of having to step in and make the sensible choices made them feel like ‘the fun police’.
The resulting feeling was most likely to be frustration, while a quarter said it leads to them becoming upset and 30 per cent regularly worry about whether they are too bossy.
Mothers were convinced that their children associate them with homework, tidying and the boredom of the weekly routine while dads were more commonly associated with playtime and fun.
For working parents in the U.S., the challenge of juggling careers and family life continues to be a front-burner issue – one that is being recognized by a growing number of employers who have adopted family-friendly policies such as paid leave. But while few Americans want to see a return to traditional roles of women at home and men in the workplace, one reality persists: Women most often are the ones who adjust their schedules and make compromises when the needs of children and other family members collide with work, Pew Research Center data show.
In a 2013 survey, we found that mothers were much more likely than fathers to report experiencing significant career interruptions in order to attend to their families’ needs. Part of this is due to the fact that gender roles are lagging behind labor force trends. While women represent nearly half of the U.S. workforce, they still devote more time than menon average to housework and child care and fewer hours to paid work, although the gap has narrowed significantly over time. Among working parents of children younger than 18, mothers in 2013 spent an average of 14.2 hours per week on housework, compared with fathers’ 8.6 hours. And mothers spent 10.7 hours per week actively engaged in child care, compared with fathers’ 7.2 hours.
Another factor is the way that society views the bond between mothers and their children. In a 2012 Pew Research survey, the vast majority of Americans (79%) rejected the notion that women should return to their traditional role in society. Yet when they were asked what is best for young children, very few adults (16%) said that having a mother who works full time is the “ideal situation.” Some 42% said that having a mother who works part time is ideal and 33% said what’s best for young children is to have a mother who doesn’t work at all. Even among full-time working moms, only about one-in-five (22%) said that having a full-time working mother is ideal for young children.
When asked what’s best for women themselves, the public expressed a similar sentiment. Only 12% of adults said the ideal situation for women with young children is to work full time. About half (47%) said working part time is ideal for these women, while 33% said not working at all would be the best situation.
The public applies a much different standard to fathers. When we asked about the ideal situation for men with young children, fully seven-in-ten adults said working full timewould be ideal for these fathers. One-in-five adults said part-time work would be ideal and only 4% said it would be best for these dads not to work at all.
In reality, the “ideal” situation is not always the most practical, nor is it always attainable. In fact, according to U.S. government data, 64% of mothers with children younger than 6 are in the labor force, and among working mothers, 72% work full time.
One result is that while 42% of mothers with some work experience reported in 2013 that they had reduced their work hours in order to care for a child or other family member at some point in their career, only 28% of fathers said the same. Similarly, 39% of mothers said they had taken a significant amount of time off from work in order to care for a family member (compared with 24% of men). And mothers were about three times as likely as men to report that at some point they quit a job so that they could care for a family member (27% of women vs. 10% of men).
It’s important to note that when we asked people whether they regretted taking these steps, the resounding answer was “No.” However, it’s also important to note that women who had experienced these interruptions were much more likely than men to say that this had a negative impact on their career. For example, women who took time off at some point in their work life to care for a child or other family member were twice as likely as men who did the same to say that this hurt their career overall (35% vs. 17%). Similarly, among those who took a significant amount of time off from work to look after a family member, 32% of women compared with 18% of men said doing this hurt them professionally.
According to many economists, family-related career interruptions can undermine women’s economic prospects in a variety of ways, by contributing to the gender wage gap and by narrowing the pipeline that feeds top-level jobs. Of course, for lots of women these interruptions may serve as the catalyst to a more balanced life which may in turn outweigh any lost financial benefits.
In her new book “Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family,” Anne-Marie Slaughter raises many of these issues, and in a recent New York Times article, Slaughter said that what is needed in order to change individual workplaces is a “culture change: fundamental shifts in the way we think, talk and confer prestige.” Our data suggest that a generational shift, if not a culture change, may be coming. When we asked young adults (ages 18 to 32) who don’t yet have children whether they anticipate that becoming a parent will make it harder or easier for them to advance in their job or career, young men were just as likely as young women to say that children will likely slow down their career advancement (roughly 60% in each group). This suggests that Millennial men may be entering their careers with a different set of expectations about what balancing family life and work will entail.
At the same time, though, among young adults with children, women are much more likely than men to say being a working parent makes it harder for them to get ahead at work (58% of Millennial moms say this, versus 19% of Millennial dads).
These issues raise anew debates over government and workplace policies designed to support parents and families. While the national conversation continues, working parents across America will continue to juggle their many responsibilities – making time for caregiving along the way.
It seems so obvious: having kids affects men and women differently. Sure, emotionally and financially but most clearly in the simple way mothers and fathers spend their time. And when you actually look at how 10,900 Americans carve up 24 hours, the conclusion is pretty stark: if you’re a woman who enjoys paid work or relaxing activities, having kids will cramp your style. Being married with kids also isn’t looking like a great idea according to the numbers.
To understand how the presence of offspring affects men and women, I looked specifically at US adults aged 25 to 54 who were in full-time employment. The data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) which recently updated its American Time Use Survey. It’s the most detailed information we have about how people in the US spend their days.
On an average day, women who have children spend 54 minutes less of their time on job-related work than women who don’t have children. But men with kids work 25 minutes more each day than men that don’t. In other words, children seem to take women away from the office but drive men towards it.
Obviously averages differ a bit over the course of a week but for the purposes of this analysis, I just took the average day regardless of when it fell during the week or year.
I also tried to look at how marital status might affect some of these numbers but this is where things get a little tricky. See, the BLS doesn’t actually say that the differences in how Americans spend their time are because they have children. Some of these differences could be explained by other factors like age – the older you are, the more likely you are to have children and maybe as men get older they spend more time at work but as women get older they’re less likely to (meaning that it’s the job and not the presence of kids that affects work hours).
But to get back to the babies, these numbers change a lot with marital status. It’s not all dads that spend more time at work, it’s specifically the married ones. Unmarried fathers only spend an extra two minutes each day at work compared with childless men. And there’s a similar pattern for women too. Unmarried mothers spend less time at work than unmarried non-mothers (13 minutes less each day), but that’s a much smaller difference than the one for married mothers who spend a whopping 62 minutes less time at work every day than married, childless women.
Americans with children see their leisure time significantly reduced. Daily time spent participating in sports falls by nine minutes, reading by eight minutes, and TV time drops by 38 minutes. Those declines are similar for both men and women (which means they don’t even out pre-existing gender gaps: childless men spend 26 minutes more time watching TV in a typical day than childless women).
The BLS found that men with children under the age of six spend an extra one hour 32 minutes each day “caring for and helping household members” compared with childless men. Fair enough. But for women, having young children seems to add an extra two hours 10 minutes to their daily responsibility routine.
And that time category “caring for and helping household members” looks very different for unmarried parents compared with married ones. An unmarried man with a child under six spends an extra 30 minutes each day on household care than an unmarried man without a kid (that’s even a little more than unmarried women who only spend an extra 26 minutes on care compared with unmarried women without kids).F
Again though, interpretation is tricky. Maybe the kind of heterosexual couples who believe in marriage also believe in more traditional gender roles that involve women bearing most of the responsibility for childcare. Or maybe married Americans are slightly wealthier than unmarried ones (we actually know that theory is true) which could affect their decisions about how much to work once they have children.
Even if men aren’t putting in as much time on childcare as women (more on that in a minute), they’re still spending some of their day on their kids and working more at the office, farm or factory than men without kids. How do they do it? By sleeping less – about 16 minutes less each day than men without young kids. For women, there’s barely any effect – mothers seem to spend just one minute less each day sleeping than women who don’t have children.
If that seems surprising, it’s all the more counterintuitive given that these numbers are just based on children that are under six years of age (ie the kids most likely to wake you up in the middle of the night because they can’t yet address their own thirst, hunger, existential anxiety etc). When you look at kids that are aged six to 17, fathers don’t sleep much less than men who don’t have kids but mothers sleep 16 minutes less each day than women who don’t have kids. Maybe teens are more stressful to women than men. Or, maybe this is again just an age thing – having older kids means you’re more likely to be older and we know that older women (especially those aged 35-44) sleep less than men their age.
Here too, marital status seems to matter – and it’s one of the few occasions when, statistically speaking, marriage looks appealing to women. Because married mothers don’t sleep less than married women without children but unmarried mothers sleep 14 minutes less each day than unmarried women without babies. That might not sound like much but remember, there are only 1,440 minutes each day and at least 420 of them are supposed to be spent sleeping. Every minute counts.
Ask any mom about the invisible workload of motherhood and she knows exactly what you’re talking about.
It’s the things we do for our families that are necessary but go completely unnoticed. The endless list of small tasks that would only ever draw attention if they didn’t happen. The mental weight of doing it all, remembering it all, feeling every emotion in your family and worrying, constantly.
It’s not just making dinner every night—it’s knowing what everyone likes, deciding what to make, having a mental inventory of what’s already in the fridge and cupboards, picking up the groceries, and knowing which night we won’t be home for dinner because of soccer. It’s packing the leftovers into a Tupperware and making a mental note of when it will go bad. It’s noticing that maple syrup has spilled in the back of the fridge and silently cleaning it up, tossing out an old salad dressing and some uneaten pasta as you go.
The invisible workload carries over to the pile of school forms and birthday party invitations on the counter, the lunch bag that needs replacing and the school shoes that are getting too small. It’s how summer clothes are removed from dresser drawers and replaced with pants that you bought in anticipation of the cold. It’s how those old summer clothes end up being sold, donated or passed on to a friend. It’s why your kids have neatly clipped fingernails and get regular haircuts.
The list looks somewhat different to everyone, but it never ends. Sometimes, it’s about stocking the cupboards with toilet paper, dish soap, paper towels, shampoo, and toothpaste. Other times, it’s why a new kettle appears when the old one breaks, or a babysitter shows up on date night. It’s buying and wrapping the presents for those birthday parties, knowing the names of the kids and parents at the party, and understanding which kid your child is avoiding and why. Oh, and it’s how EVERY holiday happens.
And, you’re still doing the visible things.
But when? Oh my god, seriously, when?
Whether your day is spent working outside the house or at home with a young family, it’s likely that you’re busy as hell and being pulled in five different directions at any given moment. Your mornings are chaos and your 9-5 is either spent in an office or with your lovable yet incredibly demanding offspring. Then there’s dinner, maybe homework, bedtime routine, and finally, free time . . . which you’ll use mostly to care for others.
When I wake up from a half-sleep in one of my kids’ beds at 8:15 pm, having passed out next to them with a copy of The Gruffalo discarded on the floor below, I want to call it a day. I want to kiss my beautiful child on the head, slip out of their room and dive into my own bed for a long, deep, uninterrupted sleep.
This never happens.
Instead, I stumble out of their warm bed and look frantically for my phone to check the time. I sprint to the mall before it closes because one of my kids has outgrown his fall jacket and the other has destroyed all of her socks. While I’m there, I pick up new work pants for my husband and grab a copy of that novel I need for book club. I leave the mall and grab a coffee before Starbucks closes, then head over to the 24-hour grocery store to pick up food for the week. On the way home, I might have to fill up on gas or pop into the drug store (also open 24 hours, thank God) because I forgot to grab a birthday card for that party on the weekend or a gift card for that awesome teacher who’s leaving the school and also, we’re low on Children’s Tylenol and Band-Aids. There’s always something. There are usually many things.
Sure, there are evenings that I stay in and watch a show with my husband or play Words With Friends on my phone until the screen is a tired blur. But many other nights, I meet a friend for coffee or (less often) join them for a workout class, attend a school council meeting or run some random errand that couldn’t be fit into my day. Sometimes I take my laptop to a coffee shop and catch up on work. Other nights, I head to the bookstore and slowly browse the aisles, soaking in the quiet.
I’ve taken my car to the gas station to vacuum it out at 10 pm because there was no other time to do it. I’ve done laundry at midnight and made school lunches at one in the morning before finally collapsing into bed. There is no chore I haven’t completed at an ungodly hour and no store that I haven’t cursed for closing at 9 pm. And my house is still a mess.
When it’s all said and done, I know I should go straight to bed—but I don’t. Because I haven’t had a single moment to myself to just EXIST, alone, in my own thoughts. So I turn on a late night television show, pick up a book or scroll Instagram until I’ve sufficiently chilled out. It’s only then that sleep feels appropriate, and I can rest before doing it all again the next day.
While there are others just like me, there are our morning counterparts as well. This isn’t about staying up all night to do things—it’s about squeezing your entire adult life into a few hours when your kids are in bed. We all do it to an extent. For some, this means getting up at 5 or 6 am to work out, enjoy a cup of tea in silence or get organized for the day. For me, it means staying up at all hours because I hate mornings more than a three-year-old hates mittens.
Whatever time of day you’re hammering through your list of visible and invisible responsibilities, you’re not alone—somewhere, there is a mom just like you, combing through a bin of rain boots at 8:55 pm on a Tuesday. There’s a mom buying glue sticks and felt for a school project and another one sorting through old toys so they can be slipped out of the house before the kids wake up again. These moms are everywhere, all the time. They love their kids more than words but my god, they are exhausted. If you see one, make sure you offer a supportive smile—she may not notice, because she’s so damn tired, but the solidarity is there and that’s enough.
Here are some tips to help women think about what kind of husband and father they want before getting married:
- Does he just bumble and lope around when it comes to taking care of kids? Does he assume you can do it better than he can, or that you should? When you’re shopping for the home, does he expect you to tell him what to do or take control? Or does he pitch in equally and make you feel supported in all decisions?
- Is he more entitled to his time? If he’s tired, does he take more breaks than you and assumes that he’ll “figure it out”? Does he put effort into parenting and home life, or does he just take the easiest option?
- Does he listen to you when stressed or just see it as typical wife complaining? Does he take your happiness and mental health seriously, or does he think that the sacrifices you make are to be expected as a woman (or taken for granted)?
- Can he handle high pressure situations (when you’re crying and the baby’s crying and everything is about to explode)? Can he help relieve your stress in those situations and take control?
- Is he usually the fun parent who’s concerned about playing while you’re concerned about the kids staying up after their bedtime because they’ll be too tired the next day (being the sensible parent)? You want to see if he can think about future consequences, and care about what you’re saying and be on the same team as you instead of being more validated by the kids’ affection. Basically, if he is mature enough to understand the situation and offer emotional support. You want to be with someone that is sensible as you- can have fun but also know what the priorities are, not someone you have to nudge your entire life to abide by the rules and regulations you’ve set up for your children.
- Is he empathetic and really understand what women go through trying to take care of babies- and does everything he can to help out? Or does he take advantage of the privilege and just assume that “Mom” will take over and tell him what to do? Does he care about your perspective or does it go in one ear and out the other- does he take you seriously basically.
- Does he assume that his career will come first and children will be handled by Mom as he’s seen his parents do (like the Mom being the engine of the family that keeps things running smoothly) ? Or is he willing and happy to make a new arrangement?
- How good is he at being responsible, planning, and organizing things? Or does he not “like” doing that and focuses on only fun things?
- Why does he want a family and what does it expect it to be like? Because he wants a legacy and good times with his kids? What does a day in the life of a dad look like for him? Does he want kids so much he’s willing to do something like Modamily or does he depend on the woman to do most of it? Wanting kids and wanting to take care of kids are two different things.
- Do they care about raising the kid to be feminist or equal- or have they not really thought about it that much?
- Is he empathetic and nurturing towards children, you and others? That can show how selfless he is in other areas of his life – and can determine what kind of parent he’ll be. Is he patient and understanding?
- Is he willing to learn when he’s wrong and to apologize? Does he have an ego or thinks he’s “too good” to do certain parenting things?
- How committed is he to learning other things about a woman’s body? Does he care about how periods happen/feel and how he can make it better for you? Does he care about horomonal birth control and learning about that, or the changes that happen before and after pregnancy? Is he committed to making sure you live a happy and stress-free life? Can he handle your emotions, fears & insecurities and be your reassurance? Is he ready to take care of another human being- you?
- Does he support your individual goals, hobbies and dreams as much as his, or expects you to bear the brunt of the sacrifice? Does he truly see you as an equal partner or his support while he’s the main character?
- Is he willing to invest in household help, a therapist, social/family support or a scheduler/planner if you both decide you’ll be the one doing more of the work? Does he realize how much it actually takes to care for a child and that you can’t shoulder most of it + manage a full-time job? Or does he see you as “superwoman” who can do it all while looking great?