It's 7 p.m. You're e-mailing your boss, doing the dinner dishes, checking your 10-year-old's homework, and trying to calm your angry 3-year-old, who is screaming like a howler monkey. You'd like to scream, too. At your husband, who thinks everything is just fine.
According to a new study published in the December issue of the journal American Sociological Review, working moms not only multitask more frequently than working dads but also experience more negative emotions.
“The mother-nurture-care concept is part of our social unit,” says co-author and sociologist Barbara Schneider of Michigan State University. “That’s not a bad thing, but the pressures of everyday life have made it very difficult.”
The study participants were part of the 500 Family Study, which collected data from 1999 to 2000 in eight urban and suburban communities to find out how middle-class families balance family and work obligations.
The researchers found that working moms spend 48.3 hours per week, or about 40 percent of their waking hours, doing the multitask shuffle, compared to dads, who spend 38.9 per week doing two or more things at once.
Moms are more likely to get stuck with labor-intensive housework or childcare activities, while dads generally multitask by talking to several people at once or performing self-care. Dads are also more involved in kids' recreational activities.
While multitasking is generally a positive experience for dads, moms feel stressed and conflicted when they multitask at home as well as in public places, mostly due to the type of activities performed, which could leave them open to scrutiny and judgment.
To help ease the strain, the authors suggest sharing the load by getting dad more involved in the mundane aspects of home and child care.
“Simply doing things together as a family in the context of the home can go a long way,” says Schneider.
Although the study did not look at the current situation of these families, there’s no reason to think things have improved, says University of Notre Dame sociologist Elizabeth Aura McClintock. For example, among dual-income married couples working 35 or more hours a week, men's median weekly housework hours increased in the 1970s to about 5 hours per week, but have not changed much since then.
Today’s economic climate is also likely taking a toll.
“Families are stressed,” says Schneider. “With resources it was tough; imagine what it’s like now when there are probably fewer resources due to layoffs and rising expenses.”
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