New research shows what I already know from experience: family matters cause more stress for working moms than for working dads. According to Business News Daily:
In a study to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, researchers discovered that contemplating family issues during the workday takes a greater toll on working mothers than fathers in the form of increased stress and negative emotions.
This research is not surprising to me or any other working mother that I know. As a working mom, I juggle a full-time job as a lawyer and a second full-time job as the manager of my home. Inevitably, both spheres spillover into the other, which exponentially increases my stress. For example, today I tried (unsuccessfully) to finish a motion before the end of the day (while worrying about my daughter’s eczema, how I’m going to get her to her upcoming doctor appointment, daycare closure issues next week, and her new biting habit) and then I came home and had to feed and bathe the baby in the one hour I got to spend with her before her bedtime (while thinking about the seven legal briefs I have due in the next month). My husband walked in the door, humming to himself, and asked, “Why do you look so tense? Why can’t you ever relax?” Honestly, sometimes I want to cut him. How is he not stressed after coming home from work? How does an entire evening of completing tasks around the house not compound that stress level? What is wrong with me that I can’t just chill out like he can? I want answers!
The study noted:
Overall, researchers found that working mothers experience about 29 hours of mental labor — the thoughts and concerns that can impair performance — each week, compared with just 24 hours a week for working fathers. Of that time, they each spent 30 percent thinking about family matters.
Wow, this means that working mothers spend over four hours a day on concerns that can impair their performance. Personally, with how full my day is, I don’t need to be wasting over four hours on performance impairing thoughts. After accounting for sleep, that means that I am impairing my own success with this “mental labor” for approximately 1/4 of my waking time. No wonder nothing seems to get done.
I find it interesting that both moms and dads spend similar amounts of time thinking about domestic matters; however, the study noted that men deal with the stress of these thoughts better.
Study author, Shira Offer, an assistant professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, feels that mothers are the ones judged and held accountable for family matters which makes this type of “mental labor” a negative and stressful experience. Add to that societal expectations pushing mothers to assume the role of household managers who disproportionately address the unpleasant aspects of family care and it’s a wonder that working moms are able to keep it all together. Talk about serious pressure.
The study also found that fathers are better able to leave their work concerns at work and to draw boundaries between work and home. Offer presented several reasons for this: 1) Dads can afford to leave work at work because moms assume the major responsibilities over the household and childcare and 2) Moms feel that they don’t devote enough time to their jobs and have to “catch up,” making them preoccupied with job-related issues outside of work.
These findings strike a chord with me because one of the most common reasons for contention in my home involves me bringing my work stress home. It takes time away from my child and my husband, making me feel guilty. My husband gets upset because he can’t understand why I can’t leave work at work, but choose to bring it home where it affects everyone. Then I get mad because I feel like I am doing everything and I never get a break, even once I arrive home. This affects everyone in my house.
This study suggests that dads must take a greater role in family care to make the “mental labor” less stressful for working moms and to ease the double burden that women experience while trying to succeed at work and at home.
I don’t see this situation changing drastically, at least for me. Why would my husband want to take on more responsibilities when he already does so much and he knows that I will take care of things like the cleaning and the bills? I certainly am not going to stop taking care of my domestic responsibilities because my household would fall apart. I’m simply not willing to allow that to happen. Also, honestly, even if I stopped doing many of these domestic chores, I don’t think my husband would care much. It doesn’t bother him when the dog hair dustbunnies pile up on the floor, and dirty laundry piles up in the hampers, and cat poop piles up in the litter boxes, and dishes pile up in the sink. These things bother me (I wish they didn’t), so I take care of them.
I wish I could figure out a way to both lessen my domestic workload and keep my work at work. Maybe I’ll win the lottery and be able to afford a personal assistant. That would probably help relieve stress a lot. Until that happens, I guess I’m just going to be handling my “mental labor” less effectively than my husband.
Home Life Stresses Working Moms More Than Dads (Business News Daily)