- - Sunday, October 13, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Culture challenge of the week: Drudgery

It’s the common feminist narrative: Moms want someone else to take care of their children because child care is not nearly as rewarding as paid work. Housework and child care are mindless drudgery, and women want out.

Don’t you believe it.

Data released by Pew researchers show that parents — both moms and dads — described 62 percent of their child care experiences as “very meaningful.” In contrast, parents described just 36 percent of work activity as “very meaningful.”

The Pew report, “Parents’ Time With Kids More Rewarding Than Paid Work — and More Exhausting,” is based on time-use studies that include accompanying measures of happiness, satisfaction and well-being.

It turns out that much of what we do at our jobs is a whole lot less meaningful, to most of us, than the time we spend with our children. Even the time that parents spend on mundane activities, such as managing carpools and schedules or physically caring for very young children, is rewarding, especially to moms. In addition, very few parents (3 percent) say that their child care time is “very stressful.” They report that for more than half of their child care activities (52 percent), they are not stressed at all. By comparison, work carries more stress: Just 20 percent of parents’ time in paid work is described as “not stressed.”

The data collide with the feminist narrative, which maintains that mothers are wasting their time and talents when they care for children. For feminists, professional success, fueled by single-minded ambition, is the preferred route to a rewarding life.

Perhaps, for the Sheryl Sandbergs of the world, “leaning in” at work is how they find meaning, but for most mothers, it is in family and relationships where they find joy. The time spent caring for others is not wasted — it’s highly meaningful. It matters to us. In fact, we enjoy it.

Perhaps that’s why the majority of mothers describe part-time work as their ideal. It allows them to apportion their time according to what they find most rewarding, while maintaining the ability to contribute to their family’s financial stability and to the larger community.

Parents even rate housework higher than paid work. They say 43 percent of housework activities are “very meaningful” compared with 36 percent of work activities. How can that be? Housework is quite often part of what we do for those we love. Cooking a special birthday dinner or a huge holiday banquet is a lot of work, but it’s also rich with meaning. It’s a way of saying, “I love you.”

So where’s the grain of truth in the feminist narrative?

Fatigue. Women are more likely than men to report being fatigued during every activity — paid work, child care, housework and even leisure. For example, while moms were more likely to report child care activities as very meaningful, they also reported feeling “very tired” during 15 percent of their child care time. Men, in contrast, felt “very tired” only 6 percent of the time during child care activities. But being fatigued is not the same is being unfulfilled.

How to save your family: Enjoy and lean on.

What’s the take-away for parents?

Story Continues →