A new study may identify a major source of maternal stress: moms multitask more than dads do, and they also hate it more.
As Melissa Healy of the LA Times points out, men's housework contributions have risen in recent years, but moms haven't gotten less stressed out. A new study of 368 moms and 241 dads reveals a possible reason: moms spent an average of 48 hours a week multitasking, while men spend 39. That may not seem like a huge difference, but it adds up — especially since women seem to dislike it way more. They were asked to record their emotions while multitasking, and they reported more negative feelings than when they were focused on a single thing. Men showed no such increase in stress. Writes Healy, "While multitasking men tend to get that heady 'superdad' feeling while juggling kids at the playground and a client on the BlackBerry, multitasking women are more likely to report feeling stressed, pressed for time and guilty about not spending more time — or more quality time — with their families."
It's not surprising that dads who juggle multiple family responsibilities feel cool and powerful. Expectations for dads are changing, but they're still generally lower than those for moms — a dad who can, say, schedule a doctor's appointment while getting his daughter ready for soccer is kind of a badass. A mom who does those things, on the other hand, is still just a mom. Also, the study authors say that even when multitasking, dads may be doing more of the fun part of parenting — "interactive activities" which are "more pleasurable than routine child care tasks." Making a phone call while playing a board game with your son might be more pleasant than making that same phone call while trying to get him to take a bath.
The study authors do offer a possible solution: when parents do things together, they seem to reduce the stress of multitasking. This makes intuitive sense — doing a bunch of tasks at the same time may be a lot less annoying if you feel that your partner is supporting you. Also, working together might mean the (sometimes literal) shit work of parenting is shared more equally, with moms playing more games and dads giving more baths. And over time, parents working together might normalize the idea that raising kids is a team effort, not something moms direct and dads occasionally help out with.
Dads Are Doing More, But Moms Are More Stressed, Study Finds [LA Times]
Moms Multitask More Than Dads, Enjoy It Less [LiveScience]