Pew modern parenthood survey: Fathers caring more – at our house, too

Pew survey gives new picture of the hard work modern parenthood is. Dads are helping out – and worrying – more, just like moms. Pew could be describing our house.

Robert Youngs Jr. / Associated Press
A new Pew study says fathers are helping around the house more, and both mom and dad stress over not being with their children enough. Here, girls play in a mock "snow" fight with other children at the Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, Mich.

While working parents didn’t need the Pew Research Center study, released today, to tell them modern parenthood is a perpetual stress test, it’s nice to have the formal research and numbers to bolster the argument that hiring a parent is a very safe bet because, while stressed, we are effective, experienced multitaskers with great managerial skills. One thing the study points out is that parents are also worried about not getting enough work opportunities to support their kids.

Because being a parent can be viewed as a negative to some employers, I advise job-seeking parents  to put this Pew study in your LinkedIn profile and submit it with your résumé to prospective employers.

“Roughly 60% of two-parent households with children under age 18 have two working parents. In those households, on average, fathers spend more time than mothers in paid work, while mothers spend more time on childcare and household chores. However, when their paid work is combined with the work they do at home, fathers and mothers are carrying an almost equal workload,” according to the Pew study, based on a survey of 2,511 adults nationwide conducted Nov. 28 to Dec. 5, 2012. (The study also included an analysis of the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which in 2003 began surveying Americans by phone to measure the amount of time people spend doing various activities throughout the day.) 

“At the same time, roughly equal shares of working mothers and fathers report … feeling stressed about juggling work and family life: 56% of working moms and 50% of working dads say they find it very or somewhat difficult to balance these responsibilities.” Of course it’s difficult, so is becoming a chess grandmaster but Susan Polgar did that and has kids, runs a foundation, teaches, and coaches college players to multiple national championships.

I know Ms. Polgar and have seen the stress hit her like a Mack truck on occasion and then she doubles-down and gets her game face on as she heads off to work. That’s what parents do.

The study adds, “Feeling rushed is also a part of everyday life for today’s mothers and fathers. Among those with children under age 18, 40% of working mothers and 34% of working fathers say they always feel rushed.” 

I agree that Little House on the Prairie moms didn’t feel the time crunch of modern parents, but time is not the main factor in parenting.

While the numbers may change from poll to poll, the stress over being able to find time and brain space to be good parents remains constant.

I believe good parenting comes down to every moment and can be made or broken in just that time frame. Working and at-home parents make the same minute-mistakes and have the same triumphs. Having played both sides of this fence, I can assure all those in an office from 9 to 5 that you can screw up. 

You can work all day, and when your child comes to you with an issue, you can make just as bad a call on what to do in an instant as you would if you had the whole day to ponder and work the problem.

In my book, all it takes is a dad or mom who comes through the door from work with a hug and a smile rather than a scowl and dismissal to get it right. 

In our home my husband, a newspaper designer, is paid far more than I, but is out of the house and missing time with our children far more. It’s soul crushing for him. I see it in the hunted look he gets every time our kids hand him a report card to sign or I remark about one of them outgrowing another pair of sneakers.

“I’m failing them he says,” and I see him withdraw from them daily instead of reaching for them.

Overall, 33 percent of parents with children under age 18 say they are not spending enough time with their children. Fathers are much more likely than mothers to feel this way. Some 46 percent of fathers say they are not spending enough time with their children, compared with 23 percent of mothers.

I work from home and feel I am failing them every time they come to me to chat or get homework help or ask to go to the park while I’m on deadline. I’m with them and not with them. It’s better for my personal feelings to be working from home, but financially it’s crippling us and is a bigger stress than anything I ever felt at the end of a long workweek as a parent.

The study has something to say about that feeling too, “While a nearly equal share of mothers and fathers say they wish they could be at home raising their children rather than working, dads are much more likely than moms to say they want to work full time. And when it comes to what they value most in a job, working fathers place more importance on having a high-paying job, while working mothers are more concerned with having a flexible schedule.”

They’re playing my song with this study. I initially left my rigid, full-time job and took to freelance writing and doing fill-in work for full-time working women on maternity leave or full-timers on vacation from major publications because I made the choice to seek more flexible employment in order to care for our youngest of four boys who has Asperger’s Syndrome. However, now that Quin is nine and high-functioning as a result of all that flexibility and care, I can’t get a full-time job because too many employers view my path as a résumé full of gaps that assumes I’m unreliable or unsuited to the full-time working world.

Fully 37 percent of today’s working mothers say their ideal situation would be to work full time, up from 21 percent of working mothers in 2007. 

Something I found key in this study was the fact that: “When asked how difficult it is for them to balance the responsibilities of work and family life, 16 percent of working mothers and 15 percent of working fathers say it is very difficult. Overall, 56 percent of working mothers and 50 percent of working fathers say it’s either very or somewhat difficult for them to balance work and family.

Sure we find it difficult, but we are still doing it. As the most overused Friedrich Nietzsche quotation in modern parenting says, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Personally, I prefer Lao Tzu as a modern parenting résumé builder, “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”

The Pew study shows that working dads and moms are mastering others (their children) and themselves as they dig deeper daily to find the kind of determination, confidence, and courage to keep taking care of business.

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