It’s official, fathers have more fun with their children and mothers have more stress.
A recent study entitled How Parents Fare: Mothers’ and Fathers’ Subjective Well-Being in Time with Children has just confirmed what we moms have always known, that in this age of “intensive parenting” children gain but parents lose and that the parent who loses the most is mom.
In our culture, parents
shuttle their children between a broad range of activities, from soccer to music lessons, all the while coaching them on how to handle a disagreement with a teacher and quizzing them on their weekly spelling words.
And, while all of these child centered activities promote achievement in our children, new research indicates that because there is a big difference in the type of activities moms and dads do with their kids, dads experience more happiness and less stress while engaged with their children than moms do.
Fathers tend to spend more of their time with children in leisure activities like watching TV, whereas mothers’ time with children is more often spent doing tasks like serving dinner, grocery shopping, or ensuring they get to soccer on time.
In addition, when fathers are with children, they are more likely than mothers to have another adult with them, “making their time with children more enjoyable by relieving them of some responsibility.” While intensive parenting seems to be beneficial for kids and generally being with their children is rewarding for parents,
nowadays high expectations for parental involvement are more frequently met by mothers, dampening their positive parenting experiences.
While the results of this study are interesting, I could have told you this 24 years ago. From the moment my first son was born, I was the one. My husband and I were equally terrified of harming our newborn but I was the one to master caretaking first, not because I had a gender-specific, pre-ordained ability to handle an infant but because I knew that I had no other option. And, as they say “way leads to way,” so this pattern of mom doing the child-care heavy lifting is one we followed assiduously, if not quite purposely.
My husband spent far less time with the children than I did and the time he spent with them was more likely to be “fun time.” When the children were little and I left them with their father, I often returned to a colossal mess made by dirty, hungry children who were happily playing some raucous game with their dad. I especially loved walking into the house and immediately being asked, “What’s for dinner?” by those who spent the entire day at home within arm’s-length of all things necessary for dinner production. In the alternative, I would return to an empty house because my husband had either gone to his parents where he would presumably get help with the children or had gone to a store to buy entertainment for the children.
We told people jokingly that I was the “custodial parent.” But, this was the culture we created together, with me as the primary parent and him with the back-up, walk-on role. When my youngest son was in third grade my husband decided to take him to Disney, just the two of them. My husband decided to surprise my son so he told him nothing about the trip, and when the time came, he picked him up from school intending to go directly to the airport. It’s not that my son didn’t trust or love his father, but he insisted on calling me from the car to confirm that daddy had “mommy’s permission” to take him away for the weekend. He had a sense that where he and his whereabouts were concerned, mom had the final word.
Now that my life observations have been validated by social science, I think it’s high time to level the playing field, even if just slightly. Mom shouldn’t always have to be the adult in the room. We can all do better. Dads’ need to take a tighter grip on the reins and moms’ need to loosen theirs and undoubtedly we, and our kids will all be better for it.