Sharing the 'fun' and the 'work of parenting
Why does it seem that
mothers are more stressed about their children while fathers maintain a cooler
and more laid back attitude? Maybe it has to do with the different tasks each
parent performs with the child. A team of researchers from Cornell University,
the University of Minnesota, and Minnesota Population Center who delved into
this found that mothers are less happy than fathers with parenting duties and
report more stress and greater fatigue than fathers. The paper was recently
published in the American Sociological Review.
'The good news from our study is that parents generally enjoy being with their kids,' said researcher Ann Meier, '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.'
Meier and her colleagues Kelly Musick and Sarah Flood used time diary data from more than 12,000 parents and examined the types of parenting activities mothers and fathers performed and individual well-being during the activities.
The researchers found that it is not only parenting activities that differ, but the environment surrounding the activity differs as well. Meier explained, 'When mothers are with their kids, they are more often by themselves. When fathers are with their kids, they are more likely to have other adults around, offering some back-up. This helps us understand why fathers are less stressed when with kids.'
Sleep also had an effect on parents' differing levels of happiness, said Meier. 'Mothers are more likely than fathers to be called on by kids 'around the clock'. Fathers' sleep and down time are less likely to be interrupted by kids. This is part of the reason fathers are less tired than mothers when parenting.'
The new paper confirms what many mothers have
noted anecdotally. The data around parenting, activities, and happiness may
help close the experience gap between genders. Meier says, 'Having data
systematically collected from thousands of parents allows us to confirm what
parents have known for years--that parenting is meaningful but also stressful
and tiring. Many mothers will recognise their experiences of interrupted sleep
and daily feeding and bathing. Hopefully, many dads will see that their
partners will likely be happier if they trade some of their leisure time with
kids for more of the 'work' of parenting.'