This is a pretty interesting article and so true!!!
THERE’S a story my daughter loves to hear me tell: The day after I came home from the hospital with her big brother, my first child, I was seized by the certainty that I was about to die. I sobbed; I asked my husband: “But who will keep him in socks? Who’ll make sure he’s wearing his little socks?”
“Didn’t you think Daddy could put the socks on?” my daughter exclaims, delighted that I’d been so ridiculous.
“I wasn’t sure he’d remember,” I say, “or have enough on hand.”
New parenthood, of course, does things to your brain. But I was on to something, in my deranged, postpartum way. I should state for the record that my husband is perfectly handy with socks. Still, the parent more obsessed with the children’s hosiery is the one who’ll make sure it’s in stock. And the shouldering of that one task can cascade into responsibility for the whole assembly line of childhood. She who buys the bootees will surely buy the bottle washer, just as she’ll probably find the babysitter and pencil in the class trips. I don’t mean to say that she’ll be the one to do everything, just that she’ll make sure that most everything gets done.
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.
IT’S surprising that household supervision resists gender reassignment to the degree that it does. In the United States today, more than half of all women work, and women are 40 percent of the sole or primary breadwinners in households with children under 18. The apportionment of the acts required to keep home and family together has also been evening out during the past 40 years (though, for housework, this is more because women have sloughed it off than because men have taken it on). Nonetheless, “one of the last things to go is women keeping track of the kind of nonroutine details of taking care of children — when they have to go to the doctor, when they need a permission slip for school, paying attention at that level,” says the social psychologist Francine Deutsch, author of “Halving It All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works.”
The amount of attention that must be paid to such details has also ballooned in the past few decades. This is because of our commitment to what the sociologist Annette Lareau calls “concerted cultivation.” We enroll children in dance classes, soccer, tutoring — often three or four extracurricular activities a week. These demand schlepping, obviously, but also have less visible time costs: searching the web for the best program, ordering equipment, packing snacks and so on. We fret that we’re overscheduling the children, but don’t seem to realize that we’re also overscheduling ourselves.
And when I say “we,” you know who I mean. A 2008 study by Dr. Lareau and the sociologist Elliot B. Weininger found that while fathers often, say, coach games, it’s mothers who perform the behind-the-scenes labor that makes kids’ sports and other pursuits possible. As one of the mothers in the study put it: “I do all the paper work. I do all the sign ups. … This is the calendar and most of the stuff on the calendar is Grace’s. Like last week, 5:30 dance, Tuesday talent show, she had a talent show after school and then she had Scouts. … Wednesday she had dance. Thursday she was supposed to have her fan club but it was canceled.” The researchers also noted that mothers’ paid work hours go up when children’s activities go down, whereas fathers’ paid hours are not affected by how much their children do.
Of course, sweeping generalizations about who does what always have a near-infinite number of exceptions. Gay couples, on the whole, are more egalitarian in their division of labor. There are many more men in charge of child care than there were 20-odd years ago. How many more depends on whether you ask men or women: Half of the men surveyed in a Families and Work Institute study from 2008 said they were either the responsible parent or shared the role equally with their spouse, while two-thirds of the women said they were the one in charge. This suggests that either men overestimate their contribution or women define the work differently.
And then there are the stay-at-home dads: two million of them in 2012, up from 1.1 million in 1989, although only around a fifth of those fathers stay home for the children. The other four-fifths are unemployed, ill, in school or retired. Some of these fathers serve as primary caregivers. On average, however, men who are out of work eke out slightly under three hours a day of housework and child care combined — less than working women do (3.4 hours a day).
One reason women like me get stuck with the micromanagement is that we don’t see it coming, not at first. Pamela Smock, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, tells a story about the students in her “Women and Work” class. Mostly women, they spend a semester reading about the gendered division of domestic labor. And yet in their presentations, even they slip up and talk about men “helping out.” “As long as the phrase ‘he helped’ is used,” says Dr. Smock, “we know we have not attained gender equality.”
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.
I’ve definitely been guilty of “maternal gatekeeping” — rolling my eyes or making sardonic asides when my husband has been in charge but hasn’t pushed hard enough to get teeth brushed or bar mitzvah practice done. This drives my husband insane, because he’s a really good father and he knows that I know it. But I can’t help myself. I have my standards, helicopter-ish though they may be.
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.
This is not to say that men who care for their offspring don’t respond to the experience, too. In fact, male caregivers experience similar, though not identical, changes in their brains (female caregivers appear to use their emotion-processing networks more). It should also be noted that some mothers have it in them to kill their young, if they feel they have to. The anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has demonstrated that both animal and human mothers have the capacity to cast off sickly offspring they lack the resources to rear. She calls this a “fitness trade-off.” But on the whole, we’d rather keep them around. And have them do well. And reflect well on us.
So we worry. When we worry, we coordinate. When we coordinate, we multitask. We text about a play date while tending to a spreadsheet. And we underestimate how many minutes we rack up on stuff we’re not being paid to do. Smartphones are particularly dangerous in this regard, because they make multitasking seem like no work at all.
But what is to be done? Someone has to arrange the schedules so as to make dinner possible, because what’s a family without family dinner? Someone has to enforce the chore chart. Outsourcing can help, but it’s “not altogether a time saver,” Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist and author of “The Outsourced Self,” told me. Hiring a professional can give you “the illusion that the task is still part of your identity, but it induces pockets of guilt.” So we overcompensate by spending more time reading to a child before bed than we ought to, given the remark the boss made that afternoon. And care providers have to be cared for, too. You need to have those meaningful conversations with the babysitter even when you should be running out the door.
All this may change as men as well as women chafe against the lengthening and increasingly unpredictable workday foisted upon us by globalization and the Internet, among other forces. The Pew Research Center released a study in 2013 showing that almost as many working fathers as mothers say they’d like to stay home with their children but have to work because they need the income. Roughly the same number of fathers as mothers surveyed — about half of each — report that they have a hard time balancing work and family. Indeed, dads are more likely than moms to say that they wish they could spend more time with their children.
With new generations come new hopes. According to research done by the Families and Work Institute, more millennials share domestic labor — and the management of it — than Gen Xers did. Jenna Fiore, a 21-year-old major in organizational studies at the University of Michigan, told me that she and her longtime boyfriend, Giancarlo Anemone, 21, a computer-science major at Kalamazoo College, have discussed how to allocate labor fairly in the household they’re planning to set up after they graduate this spring — down to “how we would divide getting birthday presents or keeping grocery lists,” Ms. Fiore says.
Mr. Anemone agreed: “It’s more than doing the actual work, it’s who is going to organize it and remembering the things that have to be done.” Ms. Fiore thinks this will be easier for them than it was for their parents because they’ll use chore-tracking apps. She has done extensive research on these, she told me, and is leaning toward a “family organizer” called Cozi, which lets both partners type items on to-do lists and keep tabs on each other’s schedules.
Ms. Fiore’s and Mr. Anemone’s farsightedness is encouraging. It should be said, however, that planning for equality is not the same as achieving it. The realities of child rearing — the shortage of time and sleep, the fraying of tempers, the pressure on women to be the right kind of mother and on men not to let family affect career — tend to define equality down. Ms. Fiore and Mr. Anemone are heading to San Francisco, where he has a job with a rapidly expanding tech company. She’s looking for work at a nonprofit organization. His hours will be long; their bills will be high. If and when they have children, they’ll have to struggle to make sure she isn’t the only one punching items into their app.