Among Parents, Dads Get All The Fun And Moms The Stress And Fatigue

By Adam Belz Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) According to researchers at the University of Minnesota and Cornell University we are still a long way from reaching gender equality in parenting.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Mothers and fathers are both happier when they're with their children, new research shows, but 1950s-era parenting roles persist. And it's taking a toll on mom.

Despite working at nearly double the rate of their grandmothers, 21st-century moms still shoulder more of the drudgery of child-rearing and report time with their children as more tiring and stressful than it is for fathers, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Minnesota and Cornell University.

"It's fair to say that moms do more of the work, and dads do more of the fun activities of parenting," said Ann Meier, a sociologist at the U and one of the report's authors. "There's been some change, but we haven't reached gender equality in parenting."

The study used American Time Use Survey data to bore into the daily lives of more than 12,000 parents, measuring how happy, sad, stressed, fatigued and how meaningful their time was throughout the day, with their children and apart from them.

The higher levels of stress and fatigue that mothers report when with their children were a result of the types of things moms do with their kids -- more of the blocking and tackling, less of the glamorous parts of parenting.

Mothers are more likely to multi-task, the data showed, cooking and cleaning while with their children, directly caring for them or handling some other type of essential, behind-the-scenes management of the child's life such as arranging appointments with the doctor, signing them up for summer camp or shuttling them around.

Dads, in contrast, tend to relax with the kids.

"Dad's time with kids is more likely to be in leisure activities, like watching TV or maybe going to a concert or sporting event as a spectator, socializing, eating and meal time, but not the work necessarily of preparing the meal," Meier said.

Christina Connelly, of St. Paul, a mother of three in a dual-income household, has 6-year-old twins (a boy and a girl) and a 2-year-old daughter.

The twins forced a certain equality on the household when they were little, since both children needed to be fed simultaneously in the middle of the night, but some of the study's findings sound familiar to her.

"My husband and I are pretty conscious of the importance of sharing household tasks and playtime," she said. "I think naturally, though, he is better at playing, especially roughhousing with our son, while I seem to have some freakish talent for calendar management and necessary-but-boring daily tasks."

Connelly knows not every woman is like her, but she multi-tasks all the time, she said. Even when she and her husband watch TV at the end of the night, she folds laundry or updates the family budget. Her husband finds it easier to relax. She's not sure how much of that is based on gender, and how much is personality. But, she said, "The study hit home in saying that even when women have leisure time, they are more likely to still find some task to attend to rather than relaxing."

This tendency to multi-task, and work on other things while with the children, is one of the study's key findings about why women report being more tired and stressed with their kids than men do. Whether it's self-imposed, cultural or the result of dads just slacking off, for mothers the results are often similar.

Connelly said it's a little irksome these days that her son sees her as the less fun parent, and doesn't appreciate the quiet support she offers.

"He doesn't care that I packed his library book for tomorrow, or even that I made him dinner, because I probably made him something he didn't like," she said, chuckling. "But if he can go out and fly a kite with his dad, that's cool."

The dynamic flips a little with her 6-year-old daughter, who enjoys helping her mom in the kitchen or working on projects together.

"All these things are so stereotypical, but it does play out that way in our house," Connelly said.

Another crucial difference between mothers and fathers that emerged in the study is this: Women are dramatically more likely to be alone with their children, and men, about half the time, rely on other adults for help. The researchers say that's one factor that leads to more stress and fatigue for mothers.

"There's some kind of backup for dads oftentimes and there's not that backup for moms as frequently," Meier said. "The buck stops with them."

Katie DiSanto, a mother of a 4-month-old in St. Paul, said the study rings true for her household and those in her social circle, but the reasons are complicated.

In her circle of friends and their spouses, mothers are viewed as the ultimate authority when there's a problem with the child. Husbands tend to hand off a crying baby, a phenomenon the women in the group do little to discourage.

"I don't know if they think they instinctively know how to care for their child and their husband doesn't," DiSanto said. "The look on my friends' husbands' face when their child starts crying is just, 'Well, I don't know what to do.' "

And DiSanto agreed that in her household, fun parenting ends up disproportionately being the domain of the father.

For example, one recent night she was up every two hours because her son is teething, and she is breast-feeding him. As she was struggling, sleep-deprived, through the next day at her office, she received steady updates from her husband, who works from home, about the fun things he and their son were doing.

"Everything's just kind of ha ha ha," she said of her husband's time with their son. "He looks at everything as fun, and I look at everything as work."

The study, which used data from the Minnesota Population Center, also showed that while mothers on average get a little more sleep than fathers, their sleep is more frequently interrupted.

Meier, the researcher, said she's not willing to blame mothers for imposing more of the work of parenting on themselves, even though she allows there is probably some of that going on.

"If dads picked up more of the work of parenting, and left some of the fun to moms, then their female partners would be happier and less stressed and less tired," Meier said. "That could reset the balance a little bit and probably everyone would be a little better off for it."

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