A team of researchers from Cornell University, the University of Minnesota, and Minnesota Population Center recently conducted a study on the well-being of mothers and fathers. And while it was found that both mothers and fathers report greater well-being after spending time with their children, mothers also report that they are more stressed out and overtired than their dad counterparts.
Part of the reason? Moms do less of the "fun" tasks associated with parenthood, and more of the "work" tasks.
For example, when mothers are with their kids, they're often by themselves. Which means they must take sole responsibility for every plea for more milk, book reading request, poop-splosion, or other demand for their attention. Dads, on the other hand, are more likely to have other adults around to lend a hand and ease the parental pressure.
Women also tend to do more of the basic day-to-day care and management tasks related to parenthood, while men seem more than happy to focus their parenting time and effort on children at play.
And in the end, mothers find themselves forced to multitask more often, ceding their leisure time to their children's needs while dads think nothing of holing up in the back room with their coffee, their wireless headphones, and the latest episode of "Homeland" while Mom is forced to abandon her quiet reading time in order to deal with diaper changing, teeth brushing, and breakfast.
Or at least this is what has been extrapolated using time diary data from the approximately 13,000 participants in the 2010 American Time Use Survey, combined with some pointed questions about how parents felt during specific activities.
If any of this sounds familiar, it's because not much has changed in the six years since those time diary entries were submitted. Even though men have taken on a greater role in parenting in recent years, the expectations that society carries for mothers—and that mothers carry for themselves—hold greater weight than any of the incremental shifts in gender roles that have occurred.
In fact, long before my husband and I became parents, we made a deal in regard to what parenthood would look like for us, and that vision was pretty traditional. Because he was the breadwinner—and I was on the income roller coaster that was freelancing—Michael would take on less of the childcare and housework tasks to focus on his work, while I would squeeze my career into the tiny cracks that were left over in my day.
But shortly after we discovered I was pregnant, something funny happened. My career shifted. I was excited about my work again. I was finally gaining momentum. My work fulfilled me for the first time in a long time and I was enjoying it so much, I began taking on even more of it.
This development has left me—surprise, surprise!—more stressed out and tired.
So yes, I spend more alone time with my daughter, while my husband is quicker to call his parents for help.
And yes, I end up doing more of the "work"-related parenting tasks, fetching my daughter from her crib and getting her dressed and feeding her and ferrying her to and from activities, necessitating that I squeeze in my work while Dad takes her on walks to the playground.
And yes, it took me two years to finish binge-watching the entire "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" series once my daughter was born because something had to give and what eventually gave was my leisure time.
Do I blame my husband? Societal expectations? Myself?
A combination of all three?
Luckily, the same study that correctly classifies me as an overtired, stressed out mess also points out that women find more meaning in the time they spend with their children. And this has held true for me as well. Like a teenage girl in the throes of puppy love, I miss my daughter whenever I'm not with her, and spending time with her gives me some intense warm fuzzies. So how could I not make her my top priority at the expense of my health and sanity?