I know that all moms work. But I also know that it feels different to be home all day with the kids while not “working outside the home” and I know this because I have the luxury of taking the summer off (I am a school teacher) to spend time with my family. We’re all back at school and work now, and chores and childcare roles have shifted. I’ve been wondering about the shift, about how my own psyche has changed, and about the implications of being a working mom for my kids, my family, for my own sanity, but also for this society.
In “Chore Wars,” which appeared in the August 8th edition of Time Magazine, Ruth Konigsberg attempted to explain that women/mothers shouldn’t feel so burdened since men/fathers are doing more household chores and childcare than they were in say, 1965, or even 1985. While Konigsberg drew upon statistics (self-reported in time diaries) gathered by various sociologists, her spin on those statistics was what interested me. She noted that women only did 8 more minutes of “unpaid and paid” labor per day than men. However, it was unclear what group provided this data, because the article also provided raw data that showed increases in male participation in childcare and household chores since 1960, but that increase still meant a discrepancy in what men and women did to maintain a family.
It’s been stressful, no doubt, returning to school. Ed says I have high standards, standards that he thinks no one can achieve, and so I always feel that I (and my colleagues, and my husband) are not measuring up. For example, I think I should be able to work all day, take care of my kids more diligently (i.e. not let them watch TV), and do all that it takes to keep a family of five moving forward each day. Ed thinks I should fret less about TV watched, and he thinks I should accept that my house is disheveled, and that my laundry is not done. Even when I do accept that, however, I still have to do the day-to-day work of feeding, bathing, clothing, transporting, mending, cooking, cleaning, laundering that meets the needs of my family.
The lingering exhaustion, combined with resentment, about the norm — this standard that makes us all bedraggled parents, mothers, and workers. Why are we so driven to constantly be working, to be caring for others all the time?
Being a parent is hard work, and there are folks who have decided that it is hard enough that only one parent should “work outside of the home.” However, for many families, it is a necessity that two parents work. For families like mine, the necessity enters in part because we have grown accustomed to the benefits we can enjoy with two incomes, but also I came to motherhood later in my career, and did not want to give it up. We’re lucky to have two working parents, to have the income that allows us to feed our family, educate our children, afford good health care, own a second home. This isn’t the case for many families.
Yet, why do I feel overburdened and overworked? Why does the day not seem to have enough hours? Why, on the occasions when I write a blog post, go for a run, read a book, do I feel a nagging sensation urging me to do something more productive, more family-oriented, more student-centered?
Konigsberg’s article noted that women who work and are parents spend 12 hours per week on childcare, compared to 6.4 for men. She also cited statistics that showed women who work also do 8.1 hours a week of housework, compared to 2 hours per week for men. The numbers of hours men work has doubled since 1960 (and thus Konigsberg’s assertion that men are doing more). Would I feel less stressed if these numbers were more evenly divided? Konigsberg’s thesis — that women should realize how much more working fathers do, that we should be sympathetic to their stress, seems, on the global level, to be a backlash. Working women have demanded that men carry their fair share–but we are still doing the lion’s share of the childcare and household chores. Perhaps this is the place where statistics fail to address the reality. The numbers may say that men are doing more, than the work load has evened. Even Konigsberg admits that when men and women do more “sharing” of the load, women take on more childcare, and women manage the household, while men do some of their share in “paid labor.”
In my own experience, women who are teachers and mothers seem to be particularly stressed. My colleagues maintain high standards for themselves, but rarely can they meet them because of the demands of families and children. In some of our faculty meetings, the tension is palpable around these issues. Women who cannot, for reasons of family and child-rearing, carry the same load as single women or men, often feel pressure to put work ahead of family. The resentment of women who do put family ahead of work creates tension in the normally collegial group of teachers in my school. It is not always vocalized, but the tension is there, during camps, when extra work is asked of faculty, when deadlines are stretched, when subs need to be found.
In my own working life, juggling the demands of parenthood and work has forced me to make decisions that put my family first. I’ve been told by my children’s teacher that I had to take them home, but it meant finding a substitute, leaving my students, and for me, what felt like shirking my duties to my job.
Konigsberg notes that the tension in families around childcare and household chores is particularly challenging when children are young, and that with age and maturity, as children begin to do more for themselves, parenthood and the demands that exhaust working moms ease.
In the wake of this economic disaster, I wonder how we, as a society can continue to burden the poor, working, and middle class with long hard hours of labor that lead to less and less life satisfaction. I am one of the lucky ones — I have a job, a husband who works and makes a contribution to our family life, a husband who recognizes that he can do more, and yet I feel the pressure. How can families who have even fewer resources begin to tackle the enormous burdens of parenting and working?