Fathers Stress Less Than Moms When Thinking About Family Because Science

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Zach Rosenberg looks into recent findings that indicate dads are generally mellower than moms when it comes to family stress.

Moms stress out about family, dads don’t. That’s official, courtesy of findings from the American Sociological Association. But fellas, the burden is on you to take it from moms, says the study.

Findings came from the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. Did 8BitDad attend that conference? You know we did. And by did, we mean didn’t.

Dads, you carefree buttholes! Don’t you know it’s your fault that mom is so stressed? Why don’t you help around the house? Why don’t you ignore your own Eagles-like peaceful, easy feeling and mire in the world-crushing emotional terribleness of momhood?

Well, when you say it like that…

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I’d love to tell you in my own words where the ASA got their study information, but there’s no way to rewrite this:

The study relies on data from the 500 Family Study, a multi-method investigation of how middle-class families balance family and work experiences. The 500 Family Study collected comprehensive information from 1999 to 2000 on families living in eight urban and suburban communities across the United States. Most parents in the 500 Family Study are highly educated, employed in professional occupations, and work, on average, longer hours and report higher earnings than do middle-class families in other, nationally representative samples. Although the 500 Family Study is not a representative sample of families in the U.S., it reflects one of the most time pressured segments of the population. Offer‘s study uses a subsample from the 500 Family Study, consisting of 402 mothers and 291 fathers in dual-earner families who completed a survey and a time diary that collects information about the content and context of individuals’ daily experiences, as well as the emotions associated with them, in the course of a week.

Whew, I hope you’re still with me and now understand why I just couldn’t say that in my own words.

So, Shira Offer, the researcher in all of this mess, found that both moms and dads spent about 30% of the time they engaged in “mental labor” (that is, thinking hard) that it was about family matters. But moms spent more time stressing out about it – 29 hours per week versus dad’s 24 hours.

Another interesting finding was that dads spent less time worrying about work while at home. Only 25% of the time that dads thought about or were concerned with work was it in a non-work setting, compared to 34% among moms.

Offer says that the reason moms are in such a twist over family is that society pushes them to be that way. “I believe that what makes this type of mental labor an overall negative and stressful experience for mothers only is that they are the ones judged and held accountable for family-related matters,” she said of the findings.

I think there’s a couple of things at play here; first off, sure – I will fully acknowledge, admit and get behind the statement that society puts a lot of pressure on moms. And involved fathers are literally screaming at brands to stop focusing on mothers and start depicting dads in their commercials. Will that take away all of the pressure? Of course not – but in simply showing a dad in a commercial administering cough syrup or making breakfast for a kid helps moms feel like they’re not expected to be the only one worried about a kid’s health…

I bet if more commercials were like this, it’d help take some edge off of the stress because moms wouldn’t feel like they were the only ones pressured to take care of the kids. And in addition, the more commercials like this that are out there, the more dads will feel like it’s the norm to be worried about a kid’s cleanliness, health and feeding, which will get the slower ones on-board with involved fatherhood.

Kristen Howerton,Rage Against the Minivan

Kristen Howerton,Rage Against the Minivan

Second, women have to stop stressing each other out on social media. There, I said it. Kristen Howerton, who pens Rage Against the Minivan wrote last March about one kind of overkill that’s stressing parents out – holidays. ”And suddenly Pi Day is a thing,” Howerton writes. “My children expect to be served pie because someone at school told them so? And Dr. Suess’s birthday and Johnny Appleseed Day . . . all things I didn’t even know existed but am now being asked how we’ll be celebrating at home.” Howerton points to the overachieving parents that started sending goodie-bags to school with their kids for Valentine’s Day.

So do we blame overachieving parents for stressing moms out? Maybe…seems legit. But we’ll inevitably end up in a chicken-or-the-egg argument over whether societal pressure is creating overachieving parents or overachieving parents are creating societal pressure. One thing’s for sure, we can all somehow blame Pinterest. In May, TODAY Moms ran a survey, finding that out of 7,000 moms polled, 42% felt stressed out by Pinterest because they didn’t feel crafty or creative enough. And out of those 7,000 moms, 75% said the pressure they put on themselves is worse than the pressure they felt from other moms. Right? Other studies suggest that moms are starting to feel like their kids’ birthday parties aren’t good unless they handmake everything.

This is the only thing we like from NickMom.

This is the only thing we like from NickMom.

NickMom (or as they like to call it “nickmom”) is virtually never right, and we hate them in the high 90th percentile. But they absolutely nailed the graphic at right (click it to go to their site and see it bigger).

So on the other side of the horn (or whatever the saying is), you’ve got dads. Dads aren’t stressed out by each other, and aren’t stressed out by themselves. It’s a father – The Daddy Complex‘s David Vienna – after all, that poked fun at all of the recent re-methodizing of parenting with his CTFD Method (“Calm the F**k Down”).

So what, do dads just not have a lot of home/family stuff to worry about? According to Scott Behson of Fathers Work & Familywe don’t consider many dad-tasks at home as quote-unquote “work”. I link to Behson’s article a lot, not just because it’s always relevant, but because it might help give light to the idea that dads aren’t just happily underworked. It might actually be, as Offer found in her ASA study, that dads are simply not overly-concerned with family-matters. Now, think about that. I’m not suggesting that fathers aren’t concerned – but rather that they’re not overly-concerned, as are the 75% of moms mentioned above that are pressuring themselves to measure up to each other.

Are dads zen masters? It’s very possible (but with acknowledgment to the societal pressure angle). Harris Interactive reported in 2012 that men are more likely to pack their kids’ lunches than women (55% vs 43%) – and in addition, 55% of moms were simply stressed-out by the idea of packing a lunch.

Maybe dads just stress less. Maybe dads are stressing less now than before, and it’s only coincided with their increase in domestic roles. Crazy? Check this out: researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that (in short) if they stressed out a bunch of male mice, then bred them, the offspring would be less stressed-out over environmental threats and factors.

So, according to the totally mouse-based study, it’s very possible that the Gordon Gekko “greed is good” generation of dads out there that spent nights and weekends stressing over work helped to create a less-stressed generation of dads who find themselves falling into domestic roles at record numbers – and coping with it well, according to the ASA’s study results.

Maybe moms and dads just have different parenting styles. For years, moms criticized dads for lax parenting – which dads referred to as “not sweating the small stuff.” Then, years later, it became an official thing when Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest wrote Minimalist Parenting. That’s how moms say Vienna’s mantra of “calm the f**k down” because moms even stress about how exactly to calm down.

What do you think? Why are dads less stressed than moms at home? Is it the disparate house chores? Is it societal pressure? Is it Pinterest? Or are dads just genetically zen?

I have no idea what these subtitles say, but I’m pretty sure he’s talking about how his kid will be less stressed

I have no idea what these subtitles say, but I’m pretty sure he’s talking about how his kid will be less stressed

 

Originally appeared at 8BitDads

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About Zach Rosenberg

Zach Rosenberg is a husband and father living in Southern California. He is co-founder of
fatherhood news site 8BitDad.com, and a contributor to HLNtv.com. You can also find him on Twitter @zjrosenberg.

Comments

  1. I would like to write a much more thoughtful reply. But to summarize my thoughts quickly: Oh, come on! On so many levels:

    a. The segmentation of this study ignored so many kinds of families and parents it is ludicrous. This says it right here (from the article):

    “Most parents in the 500 Family Study are highly educated, employed in professional occupations, and work, on average, longer hours and report higher earnings than do middle-class families in other, nationally representative samples.”

    So basically, they looked at (from what I can surmised) higher earning, two-income-family parents. I could make many more suppositions to study about stress levels in men and women other than “family” in this demographic.

    b. Men are not screaming at brands to show more dads to reduce pressure on moms. We are doing that to better reflect that men are active parents, not dolts standing around whilst their infant children poop themselves with pudding on their faces sitting in a high chair.

    I suppose there is some truth in the study mentioned for many folks, but I don’t buy the essence of the summary points in the article.

  2. I think it’s all those things, although I always tend to lean more toward nurture than nature when it comes to gender differences. Maybe there’s some kind of hormonal balance that allows men to function more calmly in a parenting role, but my guess is it has mostly to do with gender learning and expectations. I’m not a parent, but had about two years as a step parent, and I was probably more stressed out than most dads would be. I attribute most of my stress, though, to the mother whose own stress and parenting choices I had to deal with. I found being a dad so much nicer when it was just me and the kids.

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