August 4, 2015 Leave a comment
I loved this column by Judith Shulevitz that ran back on Mother’s Day as I think it is so spot-on and I’ve been meaning to give it a post ever-since. The basic idea, is that regardless of the time breakdown of household responsibilities, far more often than not, it is mom who is actually in charge, and there’s lots of added stress that comes with that:
Sociologists sometimes call the management of familial duties “worry work,” and the person who does it the “designated worrier,” because you need large reserves of emotional energy to stay on top of it all.
I wish I could say that fathers and mothers worry in equal measure. But they don’t. Disregard what your two-career couple friends say about going 50-50. Sociological studies of heterosexual couples from all strata of society confirm that, by and large, mothers draft the to-do lists while fathers pick and choose among the items. And whether a woman loves or hates worry work, it can scatter her focus on what she does for pay and knock her partway or clean off a career path. This distracting grind of apprehension and organization may be one of the least movable obstacles to women’s equality in the workplace…
No matter how generous, “helping out” isn’t sharing. I feel pinpricks of rage every time my husband fishes for praise for something I’ve asked him to do. On the other hand, I’ve never gotten around to drawing up the List of Lists and insisting that we split it. I don’t see my friends doing that either. Even though women tell researchers that having to answer for the completion of domestic tasks stresses them out more than any other aspect of family life, I suspect they’re not always willing to cede control.
Hey, liberated men out there who do have the housework and child-rearing– does this sound like you? Probably. I’ll admit it sounds awfully familiar around here. Though, in fairness, part of that is my preternaturally low set point for anxiety and worry.
Speaking of worry, Shulevitz continues:
No matter how generous, “helping out” isn’t sharing. I feel pinpricks of rage every time my husband fishes for praise for something I’ve asked him to do. On the other hand, I’ve never gotten around to drawing up the List of Lists and insisting that we split it. I don’t see my friends doing that either. Even though women tell researchers that having to answer for the completion of domestic tasks stresses them out more than any other aspect of family life, I suspect they’re not always willing to cede control…
ALLOW me to advance one more, perhaps controversial, theory about why women are on the hook for what you might call the human-resources side of child care: Women simply worry more about their children. This is largely a social fact. Mothers live in a world of other mothers, not to mention teachers and principals, who judge us by our children. Or maybe we just think they’re judging us. It amounts to the same thing. But there is also a biological explanation: We have evolved to worry.
Evidence from other animals as well as humans makes the case that the female of the species is programmed to do more than the male to help their offspring thrive. Neurological and endocrinological changes, the production of hormones such as oxytocin and estrogen during pregnancy and after birth, exert a profound influence over mothers’ moods and regulate the depth of their attachment to their children.
Hey, it’s not my fault– it’s evolution!
Anyway, I think this is fascinating stuff and it’s going into my next Gender & Politics syllabus. It also reminds me of some of my own research from back when Laurel and I conducted our own survey on parenting. Here is the section from the appendix from the book chapter where we discuss our Parental Involvement Index:
Parental Responsibility: “Below are various tasks parents do on behalf of their children. Please tell us whether these tasks are all your responsibility, mostly your responsibility, roughly equal responsibility, mostly another’s responsibility, or all another’s responsibility.” (1) “Making social arrangements for your children, such as play-dates, planning activities, making appointments, and arranging transportation for activities”; (2) “Making decisions regarding your children’s health care needs”; (3) “Helping children to learn or helping with homework”; (4) “Making decisions about child care and schooling”; (5) “Setting limits and disciplining”; (6) “Planning appropriate meals and buying food for your children”; (7) “Nurturing your child and tending to their emotional needs.” Each item coded from 1, all another’s responsibility, to 5, all own responsibility. Index is mean response to the six items. Parental-Involvement Index: Standardized nonworkday hours + standardized parental-responsibility index. Rescaled for a minimum value of 1. Range from 1 to 8.91.
And here’s the table with the results:
What I also really remember was pre-testing these items on people I know– both halves of a married couple– and having the man answer that he was doing an equal share whereas the woman would say she was doing more than an equal share. I suspect that a fair amount of that comes from the worry disparity.
I think the big picture here is that genuine equality in child-rearing requires not just the time spent, but the worry work. And that is not going to be a simple thing to equalize.