Being a parent is more stressful for moms than dads, a new study suggests.
“It’s not that moms are so stressed out with their kids, but relative to fathers, they’re experiencing more strain,” said study co-author Kelly Musick. She’s an associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
The likely reason: Moms spend more time with their kids while doing tedious chores like cooking, cleaning and child care, while dads spend more play and leisure time with their kids, according to the researchers. The findings come from surveys of more than 12,000 American parents in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
Moms also do more solo parenting, have more sleep disruptions and less leisure time, the researchers said. All are linked with lower levels of well-being.
“Mothers are doing different things with their children than fathers are, things that we know aren’t as enjoyable. Playing with their kids is a particularly enjoyable experience for parents. And dads are doing more play as a share of the total amount of time they spend with their kids,” Musick said in a Cornell news release.
In the study, the researchers looked at reports from parents about how they felt and what they were doing during three random periods during the day. The parents rated how happy, sad, stressed and tired they felt, and how meaningful the activity they were doing was to them.
The research team then compared how the parents felt doing activities with their children to how they felt doing the same kinds of activities without their kids.
Mothers may do more of the day-to-day parenting tasks because society expects them to, Musick suggested.
“As a sociologist, I wish we, as a society, could let go of some of the assumptions and constraints we place on the mother and father roles. The mom and the dad are interacting within a societal framework that is out of their control to a great extent,” she said.
Though couples can try to work together to change how they parent, Musick said that’s not the solution.
“The solution is that we collectively rethink what we expect of fathers and what we expect of mothers,” she said.
The study was published recently in the journal American Sociological Review.
The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development offers parenting resources.