Moms more fatigued, fulfilled than dads
- Article by: Brigid Schulte Washington Post
- October 8, 2013 - 6:43 PM
Chandra Manning’s day is fragmented as she shifts from taking care of kids, to working, to housework and back again, while her husband works in long, uninterrupted blocks of time.
Molly Cowan is in charge of kids and home, in addition to her full-time job — not because her husband doesn’t want to be but because her full-time work is flexible and his isn’t.
And though Cathleen Pencek’s husband is an involved dad and shares chores around the house, she’s the one who does all the planning, organizing, buying of kids’ clothes, cleaning closets, and arranging school, child care, play dates and doctor visits.
Ever since the government began collecting detailed surveys a decade ago of how Americans spend their time, the American Time Use Survey reports have shown that mothers, even those who work full time, spend about twice as much time as fathers taking care of kids and cleaning, while fathers spend more time at work and in leisure. Now, for the first time, the survey is asking parents how they feel about that.
Mothers, they found, feel exhausted. In a report released Tuesday analyzing the survey’s data, the Pew Research Center found that mothers, on average, feel more wiped out than fathers in all four major categories of life: work, housework, child care and leisure.
That’s not all: Mothers are also happier than fathers while working, caring for children and during leisure activities. And nearly twice as many mothers as fathers say they’re even “very happy” doing housework.
Mothers find paid work more meaningful and more stressful than fathers, the Pew Research report found. And far more mothers think housework is meaningful, while more fathers are stressed out by it.
High percentages of mothers and fathers report that caring for children is the most meaningful way they spend their time. But more than twice as many mothers say they feel flattened while doing it.
“Time doing child care is where we found the biggest gap between fathers and mothers feeling exhausted,” report author Wendy Wang said. “And when you look at what mothers and fathers are actually doing, it shows why: Mothers spend much more time than fathers doing physical care — feeding the baby, giving baths. They do more managerial and educational care, all of which requires a lot of energy. Only when it comes to playing with kids do fathers do almost the same amount as mothers.”
Other studies have found that mothers’ sleep is more interrupted than fathers and that mothers feel more rushed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that women between ages 18 and 44 are nearly twice as likely as men to say they feel very tired or exhausted all the time.
Women often feel they have to switch roles throughout the day, said Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute, largely because women are still considered primarily responsible for home and family, as they have been for millennia. And fathers, she said, are still expected to “provide” for their families, even as the number of dual-income families and female breadwinners are on the rise.
“Life has changed,” she said. “But our systems, our beliefs haven’t caught up.”
Parents are often expected to work as if they have no children, she said. And mothers, in particular, are expected to parent as if they didn’t work.
Even with involved spouses, mothers say they’re still the ones who carry the family’s mental load. “My husband works a ton and never flinches when I ask him to help around the house,” Ann Marie said. “However, I’m the one who is up late into the night staring out into the darkness thinking [read: worrying] about everything from school to work to dumb stuff like how to get the stains out of my sofa.”
Author Katrina Alcorn said that is what she calls the “psychic burden” of parenting. And, she and other researchers have found, it’s largely carried by mothers. “Not surprisingly, women were doing way more of the psychic burden stuff than men,” Alcorn said. “Half the women were really angry and felt their husbands weren’t aware of how much they weren’t doing. But the other half felt a lot of compassion for their partners, saying, ‘He would love to do more at home, but he’s under so much pressure to do more at work, he can’t.’ ”
© 2013 Star Tribune