Coming off yet another weekend when my husband and I tussled over who devoted more energies to our girls, I found a bit of solace in a new report that suggests our conflicts over childcare are not only exceedingly common, but also, perhaps, about something other than who woke at dawn Saturday and Sunday (ahem).
It turns out it’s not really about who’s doing more work in our individual house, according to new research.
The culprit, two recent reports say, is more likely that we have very different expectations.
The most recent report used data from a long-term study of dual-income middle class families living in the Los Angeles area. Researchers found that men are redefining what it means to be an involved father. It’s just that their definition of “involved” does not match a mother’s definition.
“The fathers we studied are finding ways to create a new ideal of fatherhood, but they are not creating a new ideal with their partners,” said Tamar Kremer-Sadik, an adjunct professor at the Department of Anthropology at UCLA and and former director of research of the UCLA Center on Everyday Lives of Families.
The study, published in the August issue of Gender & Society , found that many fathers are channeling efforts into involvement in youth athletics, building close ties with their kids as formal and informal coaches. In the actual home, however, the bulk of the family housework tends to fall on a mother.
“Women may be unhappy about this inequality, but at the same time they value the fact that their partners are involved with the kids — even if it is mostly manifested on the soccer field,” Kremer-Sadik said.
Meanwhile, a recent report published in the Journal of Family Psychology explained the results of a survey of soon-to-be parents that asked each partner how they imagined the workload after baby.
Not surprisingly, “results indicated both mothers and fathers have unrealistic expectations during pregnancy.”
More surprising: “Mothers experienced unmet expectations with fathers doing less than mothers expected. Fathers, on the other hand, experienced overmet expectations with mothers doing more than fathers expected.”
The researchers went on to conclude: “This study highlights the importance of understanding violated expectations in both mothers and fathers.”
In other words, a conversation or two about where each partner is coming from might be helpful before the next blow-up over who’s enjoying more weekend shut-eye.
What’s the division labor in your house? Do you consider it to be fair?