A new study conducted at the Cornell University shows that while both the parents enjoy spending time with their children, managing them carries more strain for mothers.
This is is likely because moms spend more time with their kids while doing more onerous chores like basic childcare, cooking and cleaning, whereas dads spend more time with children in enjoyable, low-stress activities like play and leisure. Mothers also do more solo parenting, experience more sleep disruptions and have less leisure time, which are all associated with lower levels of well-being.
The author of the study Kelly Musick said, “It’s not that moms are so stressed out with their kids, but relative to fathers, they’re experiencing more strain.”
“Mothers are doing different things with their children than fathers are, things that we know aren’t as enjoyable. Playing with their kids is a particularly enjoyable experience for parents. And dads are doing more play as a share of the total amount of time they spend with their kids,” she said. Most of the time that fathers spend with children is family time, when the mother is also present, so, men don’t have sole responsibility for the children as often as mothers.
She pointed to a soccer analogy from late sociologist Suzanne Bianchi, who compared mothers to “sweepers” in soccer; they do what they must to defend the goal. “They’re going to play when they have time to play, but they’re going to make sure they have everything else covered. Dinner is made, the kids are bathed, laundry is folded. They do play with their kids, but when you take account of all the things they’re doing, it’s just a smaller share of their time,” she said.
The researchers mined a new source of data and took a novel approach to get these results. Analyzing time-use diaries from the American Time Use Surveys from 2010, 2012 and 2013, the researchers looked at reports from 12,000 parents about how they felt and what they were doing during three random periods during a 24-hour day.
For each period, the parents rated how happy, sad, stressed and tired they felt and how meaningful they considered the activity they were doing. The researchers then compared how the parents felt doing activities with their children to how they felt doing the same kinds of activities without their kids.
“A lot of how parents feel about parenting is based on incidental moments with kids, like hanging out on the couch or going grocery shopping. There’s a lot of parenting involved in those small moments,” she said.
Musick hypothesizes that perhaps mothers do more of the onerous parenting work because the expectations are higher for them than for fathers. Differences in society’s parenting standards for moms and dads in turn make it difficult for mothers to demand less of themselves as parents. The study was published in American Sociological Review.