Forty Years of American Parenthood

Suzanne Bianchi is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, a former director of the Maryland Population Research Center, and a co-author of a new book coming out this summer called Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, which presents findings from time diary data from surveys conducted over the last forty years.

There are some surprising facts about the way families balance the demands of work and family.

Despite hype to the contrary, preserving family time is a priority in America -- despite workloads that have increased since 1965 for both men and women.

Today's employed moms spend roughly the same amount of time with their children as stay-at-home moms did in 1975.

Since the mid-1980s, fathers have been increasing the amount of time they spend with their children (including the basics of childcare such as feeding and bathing).

Moms are doing less housework, multitasking more and taking advantage of innovations such as microwaves and prepared meals.

Dads increased the amount of housework they did from 1965 to 1985. They must have collectively decided in 1985 that they'd reached the logical tipping point, because dads haven't increased their portion of housework much since then.

Neither working nor stay-at-home moms feel they spend enough time with their kids. (My comment: The motherhood guilt-monster strikes all moms equally.)

Suzanne has faced these work/life issues herself. She left a job with the U.S. Census Bureau to join the University of Maryland Department of Sociology, in part because academic life would allow her more flexibility and time with her kids -- and perhaps assuage her guilt about not spending "enough" time with them. When she happily explained to her children that now she could pick them up from school and spend the afternoons at home with them, her daughter's sad face puzzled her. Then her daughter explained: "But I still can go to afterschool to be with my friends, right?" Maybe there isn't so much to feel guilty about, for all of us moms.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  April 10, 2006; 8:13 AM ET  | Category:  Research
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I would be interested on the guilt angle, following the last point, how old the children are of mothers who feel guilty about not spending enough time with them. I find that with my very independent 9-year old, he would much prefer to spend time with his friends or on his own than to hang out with me, at least for the most part. That is an adjustment for me much more than for him...it all seems (and is) perfectly natural to him. So guilt doesn't seem to be necessary?

Posted by: Kris D | April 10, 2006 9:11 AM

When I was in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade, I remember how homesick I got when I left the house. Several times I would fake a stomach ache, just to stay home all day with my Mommy.
When I got to high school, I'm glad my Mom worked full time so me and my friends could come over to my house after school and smoke pot all afternoon without anybody finding out. Cool!
For the most part, kids will tell you if they need more or less of your attention. If your kid has ever drawn all over their face or body with permanent magic marker, it's a dead giveaway to everybody that Mommy had spent too much time on the phone. More severe signs of Mommy Deficit Disorder include forbidden piercing / tattoos, bodily mutilization, attraction to the Goth Cult, and teenage pregnancy.

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 10, 2006 9:18 AM

I think mothers tend to feel guilty in response to unrealistic expectations that society places on us.

I saw this with my own mother. She raised 5 children with no help while balancing a demanding legal career. A generation ago, it seemed like people practically lined up to tell her that what she was doing was wrong. And she listened. Despite her absolutely heroic efforts, she was riddled with guilt.

Now, like my mom, I am a lawyer and a parent (3 young children). I try to do an excellent job, like my mother did, both at home and at work. Unlike my mother, however, I rarely feel guilty. I really think you can make a choice not to feel guilty. Instead, take pride in doing your best efforts. Otherwise, you're giving power to societal critics that are simply out of touch with the way most families live now.

Posted by: MM | April 10, 2006 9:31 AM

"More severe signs of Mommy Deficit Disorder include ... teenage pregnancy."

Actually, teenage pregnancy is more likely a cause of Daddy Deficit Disorder, Father of 4. Girls are less likely to be sexually active when they have a strong, positive male influence/role model.

Sorry, can't put all the blames on mom for that one. You'll have to go back to blaming us for the general malaise, drug use, Napoleonic Wars, etc.

Posted by: EyeRoller | April 10, 2006 9:39 AM

I actually wish Father of 4 would post more often. It's not often that you can get such high-quality entertainment at such a low price!

Posted by: THS | April 10, 2006 9:41 AM

Last year when I worked, my then 8-year old would get mad at me for picking her up early from afterschool. It was at a private school where a pool and a skating rink were among the amenities and she HATED missing "skating day." And here thought I was playing hero by showing early. Silly, silly me.

Posted by: Ninotchka | April 10, 2006 9:47 AM

My mother starting working again when I went to school full time and was always home when I got there. I loved it as a little kid and hated it as a teenager - so me and my friends would go to someone else's house where both parents worked and do all the things you aren't supposed to. We got caught all the time, but that didn't stop us from trying!

I went from full time to part time when my first was born. Either me or my husband or a grandparent has always been home with the kids - after school someone is there to meet them at the bus. When my daughter started Kindergarten she came home and told me that "some kids get to go to daycare after school and play, can I do that?" I told her no - she was stuck with coming home. I expect she will not be so thrilled to have me waiting for her when she is 12 or 13, but that is too bad! The "guilt" got to me when my kids were born and I gladly gave up my "career" to just work to earn extra money - and be home with the kids. No regrets.

Posted by: Cmac | April 10, 2006 10:52 AM

Forgot to mention one last thing...
While me and the dudes were doing the bongathon and torching the dubage, my Mom was persuing her master's degree at George Mason University in the field of Special Education "" Special", is the term used for the learning disabled and emotionally disturbed.
It's all beginning to make sence to me now...

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 10, 2006 11:04 AM

Father of Four,
Are you saying your recreational activities are the result of an inattentive mother? Should she have been at home supervising you rather than going back to school?
Maybe. I read somewhere that teenagers are more apt to get in trouble between the hours of 3 and 6 on weekdays when their parents are not home yet. Apparently, that is when most teen pregnancies happen. We feel so guilty about leaving our little ones at daycare, but really, we really should be afraid of leaving our teenagers unsupervised after school. They really are at the mercy of they underdeveloped judgement during those hours. Maybe there should be daycare for them also, or at least sports or drama or whatever to keep them busy till their parents get home.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2006 12:07 PM

Please ignore Father of 4. He is desperate for attention. His comments don't deserve the compliment of a rational response.

Posted by: Reminder | April 10, 2006 12:29 PM

Actually "Father of 4" has a valid point in this case. Although he would have bitterly resented at the time, his folks should have made sure he was supervised after school as a teen.

But note I say, "his folks", not his mother.

I got in much less trouble as a teen than my best friend and her brother who were latch key kids. My friend liked to come to my house so she didn't have to deal with her brother's friends who congrgated at the apartment. We always joked that she kept me from being boring and I kept her out of jail.

Posted by: Had a stay st home mom | April 10, 2006 12:35 PM

"For the most part, kids will tell you if they need more or less of your attention. If your kid has ever drawn all over their face or body with permanent magic marker, it's a dead giveaway to everybody that Mommy had spent too much time on the phone. "

Now there I have to disagree -- my five-year-old did this a few months ago and it wasn't a "Mommy's on the phone too much" trick (which would be a trick in itself considering how little my phone rings); it was a "Great -- Mama's asleep; let's grab the thing she won't normally let me play with" trick. I had fallen asleep on the couch after a exahusting week of work and woke up to find that my son was planning to audition for "Braveheart 2". He thought it was hillarious until he got a quality hour in the bathtub with me trying to get the marker off him. Strangely enough, he hasn't tried that trick again. :)

Posted by: CentrevilleMom | April 10, 2006 12:47 PM

Let's see if we got this right? Centreville Mom falls asleep on the couch from an exhausting week of work instead of watching her child. The child gets into the markers, unobserved by Mom, and paints himself blue. Mom takes her guilt out on the kid in the bathtub.

Sounds like an argument for more stay-at-home moms and fewer work-full-time-and-parent-part-time moms. Really, if you had to choose between your paycheck and your kids, which would it be?

Posted by: KidsFirstJobSecond | April 10, 2006 1:43 PM

A mother could just as well fall asleep after spending a night caring for a sick child as after having a hard week of work. And children can get into trouble when mom is doing the wash or going to the bathroom or taking a shower.

Plenty of at-home moms leave teens alone to go grocery shopping or exercise or do other errants.

I think that parents who do not have outside employment, who work part-time, and work full-time have a lot in common. People should be less judgmental.

Posted by: ES | April 10, 2006 2:10 PM

ES you are absolutely right. Not only should we stop judging each other and start trying to find solutions evenone can use but we should stop using this blog as a place to pick fights and prove we are better than any other parent (stay at home or working) out there. Making dinner for your family can result in your children getting into all sorts of trouble even with a "baby-proof" house. This isn't an indication the child wants more attention. This can be an indication that the child is smart, creative, and starting to try and push the boundries.

Posted by: agreement | April 10, 2006 2:21 PM

I feel sorry for KidsFirstJobSecond. She has spend all day waiting for a chance to justify her choices to the rest of us. Was your child sitting on your lap while you wrote that post? If so, how is your bitterness impacting him or her?

Posted by: L | April 10, 2006 2:22 PM

"Sounds like an argument for more stay-at-home moms and fewer work-full-time-and-parent-part-time moms. Really, if you had to choose between your paycheck and your kids, which would it be?"

If you really think that you have to choose between the two, then you should go back to school and learn some logic and reasoning skills. I hope that you don't pass your ignorance on to your children.

Posted by: L | April 10, 2006 2:25 PM

"Today's employed moms spend roughly the same amount of time with their children as stay-at-home moms did in 1975."

You would have to be a moron to believe this statement.

Posted by: Tom | April 10, 2006 2:36 PM

Tom; I take it you don't believe in scientific studies or education. I'm a recent graduate and took a sociology class on the family my last semester. There are multiple scientificly run studies out there that show this very thing. Turns out those moms who were stay-at-homes in the 60-70s spent a large amount of time at church meetings, volunteer work, lunches with friends.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2006 2:43 PM

Tom, it also depends on the age of the kid. Bearing in mind that school age kids are in school from 8-3 and often later if there are sports or clubs involved, it's not that hard to see that the difference b/w today's working moms and nonworking moms from 1975 isn't that significant.

Posted by: dc | April 10, 2006 3:01 PM

Regarding this idea of guilt ...

Guilt is a choice and it is not a constructive emotion for you or your children. If you are truly unhappy with your choice make a different choice. If you aren't or can't, then accept it.

Posted by: DC | April 10, 2006 3:02 PM

And Tom: I seem to remember *playing outside* as a child (not with Mom); going to Scout meetings (not with Mom); choir practice (not with Mom); play rehearsals (not with Mom); soccer practice... oh wait, not with Mom. Yeah, she dropped me off and picked me up, but I didn't spend time with her, even though she was home.

Posted by: Ah, the good old days :-) | April 10, 2006 3:04 PM

"Turns out those moms who were stay-at-homes in the 60-70s spent a large amount of time at church meetings, volunteer work, lunches with friends."

They actually did things that made themselves happy and fulfilled instead of being family martyrs and trying to justify their own decisions to others. Most stay-at-home mothers (housewives) during the 60-70 felt great about their decisions and their satisfaction was felt by the entire family. THIS IS WHAT BENEFITS THE CHILD. There were no "mommy wars". You just did what you felt was best and moved on. No wonder why the divorce rate was so much lower.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2006 3:04 PM

If the moms of the 60-70s were such happy, fulfilled moms, why is it THEIR children who are having the "mommy wars" and can't seem to make choices without questioning themselves, not to mention the ones getting divorced?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2006 3:17 PM

"If you really think that you have to choose between the two, then you should go back to school and learn some logic and reasoning skills. I hope that you don't pass your ignorance on to your children."

So true. When your kids are your job, then you can choose both.

Posted by: KidsFirstJobSecond | April 10, 2006 3:27 PM

If your kids are your job, then what about your self, your spouse, your hobbies? I really feel sorry for you.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2006 3:32 PM

After reading this blog, it looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

Posted by: hung low | April 10, 2006 3:33 PM

Tom,

I take it that you don't believe in garbage. Neither do I. When I studied Physics as an undergrad, I learned to quickly "gut check" and use common sense to question/confirm the validity of every number that I hear.

The numbers behind the claim that "Today's employed moms spend roughly the same amount of time with their children as stay-at-home moms did in 1975." are that WOHMs spent an average of 12 hours a week on child care in 2003, an hour more than SAHMs did in 1975.

So, SAHMs in 1975 supposedly spent only 11 hours per WEEK caring for their children??? I spend almost 12 hours/DAY caring for my toddler.

It appears as if the mothers in the "study" that produced these results were selectively chosen. Either:

1) the SAHMs' children were all in school and heavily involved in afterschool activities, because no SAHM with a baby, toddler, or preschooler spends less than 2 hours on childcare per day.

- or -

2) The mothers in the study were non-representative of SAHMs in general in that (a) they were negligent or (b) they had childcare providers lined up every day to watch their children while they went off and did their own thing.

Posted by: MBA Mom | April 10, 2006 3:34 PM

"So, SAHMs in 1975 supposedly spent only 11 hours per WEEK caring for their children??? I spend almost 12 hours/DAY caring for my toddler."

It all depends on what the study considered "child care". I wouldn't get too worked up about it if I were you.

You sound a bit bitter. Feel good about what you are doing. Does it really matter how your time compares to others? Apparently it does to you.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2006 3:42 PM

It's all the man's fault. He recognized that women were smarter than he and willing to work for much less. Then he invented those little pills called birth control to reduce the family size, pinned an "I'm a Working Mom" badge on his wife's chest, and sent her off to work. Now the man can enjoy more sex and wealth than ever before. Those evil men! I try to teach my daughters all about them. They are bad, bad, bad, bad, bad!

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 10, 2006 3:45 PM

Technology has really reduced the amount of time a person has to spend to maintain a household. Women in previous generations spent many more hours each day on household tasks than do women today. Tasks like laundry and cooking took much longer because the clothes had to be hung outside to dry and and everthing had to be made from scatch and microwaves didn't exist.

When I was a child in the 60s and 70s, mothers in my neighborhood simply sent the older children outside and kept the little ones in playpens while they took care of the housework. They did not spend 12 hours a day devoted to childcare. Only since more time became available to be spent on childcare did the notion develop that stay at home mothering meant full time child care.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2006 3:49 PM

Are the majority of these commenters actually parents, or are they the children?

Posted by: Appalled | April 10, 2006 4:09 PM

That's it, Appalled. Better to attack the messenger than the message.

Can you say Ad Hominem?

Posted by: Can you say Ad Hominem? | April 10, 2006 4:27 PM

My mom was a SAH mom, and a very good one, mind you. She took great care of us. But I still remember going down to the basement with my brothers, and taking turns spinning each other in the dryer. We only spinned a few times, and the dryer never got hot, but when I remember this, I shudder. We were just little kids, and thought it was great fun. My mother never caught us. She was certainly not neglectful, but it just goes to show that SAH moms can be distracted also, and their kids also can get into trouble. This is not inherently the realm of working moms.

Posted by: cg | April 10, 2006 4:56 PM

If the commentators in this blog are the ones raising the next generation, then we're all in trouble!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2006 4:56 PM

Father of 4,
You should know that the a woman, not a man, was responsible for underwriting research into the birth control pill, and then pushing for its legalization. Margaret Sanger was her name.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2006 5:04 PM

I didn't know that Ivan Pavlov had 4 children until reading this blog.

Posted by: L | April 10, 2006 5:06 PM

One of the previous commenters asks "Really, if you had to choose between your paycheck and your kids, which would it be?"

Most of us don't have the luxury of choosing. Without my paycheck, even in a two income family, we would have no way to pay our rent, our car payment, our car insurance, or buy groceries. I earn nearly twice as much as my spouse, and working is not a luxury for me. I think there are plenty of American moms who find the whole idea that they could just quit and stay home belongs in some other world -- in some 50s sitcom that has nothing to do with today's economic realities.

Posted by: Artaxastra | April 10, 2006 5:07 PM

Ataxastra, if you choose to live within your means and lower your financial expectations, you might find that you are able to live on one paycheck.

Posted by: OneSalaryTwoParents | April 10, 2006 5:16 PM

OneSalaryTwoParents

Seriously,do you live in the DC area and realize how expensive it is to live around here? Some people have school loans, and that along with a mortgage for a home that is by no means extravagant, can mean that you need two incomes just to get by. If you want your kids to be in a good school system, you pay thru the nose in house prices.
I am so sick of holier than thou SAH types who think that their way is the only way. People work to live, not the other way around. We work because we need to provide for our families, and no, not in extravagant ways. We pay mortgages, put money away for college, save for retirement. We teach our children that they will succeed in life by working hard, as we do. We have interesting lives and do not depend on our kids for every last bit of gratification, because it is not their job to make us feel worthwhile. It is our job to shape them into independent people and not hover over them and control every nanosecond of their existence. We work to contribute to our world, to give our children an example, to satisfy our own yearning for stimulation. And our kids grow up strong and independent and smart and proud of us.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2006 5:30 PM

My favorite part about this blog is that if you don't agree with someone, you must be A) desperate for attention, B) bitter, C) ignorant, or D) a moron. And these are just the insults used today! Will the fun never end?!

Posted by: I love this blog! | April 10, 2006 5:36 PM

"We pay mortgages, put money away for college, save for retirement. "

In other words, you choose things and money over time with your children.

Posted by: TwoParentsOneSalary | April 10, 2006 5:38 PM

Leslie,

Another great blog and statistics to show that staying home is a waste of time. However, we all know that SAHM are uneducated and really have no choices so what’s the fuss…that is what you said to “Anytown USA.” I know how hard working moms have it with kid duty and working. If I listen to your advice I should send my six your old out to the corner store to buy the family milk supply since after all I worked hard all day. No use in wasting my time concerning their safety after all independence is the name of the game. I am sure most pediatricians would agree this type of responsibility is age appropriate for a six year old. Why were at it why not let my eight year decide shoe quality after all I am more concerned about finding a parking spot for my SUV. Heaven forbid I would try and educate my children on quality vs style of a shoe…but that is what independence is all about…making poor choices. I find your attempts at baiting SAHM pathetic and statistics you use to justify your parenting rather selective. Parenting is tough for both SAHM and working mom we really do not need you lame antidotes.

Posted by: PT Working Mom | April 10, 2006 5:46 PM

Anecdotes?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2006 5:53 PM

"We pay mortgages, put money away for college, save for retirement. "

In other words, in case you are dense, we choose to invest money in ways that are beneficial to the long term well-being of our kids. They will be better off with a stable roof over their heads in a safe place to live, an education that helps them survive as adults, and parents who are not inpoverished and financially dependent on them in their old age. Is that really so hard to understand?

It's a shame that we really can't live on love alone, but love does not pay the bills. To raise our kids in poverty purposefully, because we choose not to work so that we can "spend time" with them, only teaches them that working is optional in life. And for those that truly have that option, great!! But to think that a mortgage, education, and retirment savings are luxuries that we could do without and less important than "time" with our kids, is just foolish and nearsighted.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2006 5:54 PM

Anonyms,

That is correct it should have read anecdote....maybe I need the antidote with the poison I wrote.

Posted by: PT Working Mom | April 10, 2006 5:57 PM

Did anyone read the review of your book in the most recent Atlantic Monthly? I'm glad I read the review before I bought the book. It sounds as though the title should have been "Mommy Wars among the Rich and Famous." Was all that designer-label-name-dropping really THAT necessary? The reviewer's point was very well taken - most moms, including virtually every lawyer mom in my public sector law office, are working because they have to in order to pay the bills on an ordinary middle-class standard of living. Most of these women would stay home with their kids in a heartbeat if they could afford to. Their husbands are often unemployed, self-employed, underemployed, also working for the government (another way of saying "underemployed"), or get little or no benefits at their jobs. To devote this book to the insights of a group of extremely privileged mothers - working or not - means the real story of working mothers is not being told. Perhaps it's just not glamorous enough to be worth telling?

Posted by: Bluecollarlawyermom | April 10, 2006 6:23 PM

Bluecollarlawyer,
If you read this blog enough, you'll soon realize that upper-middle-class moms are the only ones who get any air-time around here. All the other voices are drowned out by cries of "you're judgemental!" or "you're bitter!" or "you must really hate life!" Don't expect to get a fair hearing on this blog.

Posted by: Just saying... | April 10, 2006 6:37 PM

"Ataxastra, if you choose to live within your means and lower your financial expectations, you might find that you are able to live on one paycheck."

Why does any working mom even pay any attention to people like this?

This reminds me of my stay at home sister-in-law who tries so hard to give her kids everything, but can't afford anything. So she works my brother-in-law to death, borrows money off my father in law, and over spends on her credit cards. Most times they can't even pay their mortgage. But, hey I’m just the selfish working mother, who doesn’t spend enough time with her kid.

I don't worry though, because someday when her ten year old sweat pants fall off her swollen butt while she is working at McDonalds, I will have built my career so I can work from home with my teenagers, while hers are out doing God knows what!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2006 6:46 PM

Leslie,

Love the way you can turn mom against mom…great sport. Its fun watching cats fight. I think you would be prefect for training cocks to fight (I hear its great sport as well). This blog is sooo “On Balance.”

Posted by: Iowa Mom | April 10, 2006 6:54 PM

^^^^

Agree. This is a "Mom Fight".

Tabloid B.S.

WaPo should dump it.

Posted by: momfight | April 10, 2006 7:04 PM

I don't think it is Leslie's fault that many posters here seem to prove her point -- there really IS a Mommy War. If this blog is any indication, the most enthusiastic participants in the war seem to be the stay at home moms.

Posted by: MM | April 10, 2006 7:50 PM

L said "I didn't know that Ivan Pavlov had 4 children until reading this blog."

Hysterical!

Posted by: Kudos to L | April 10, 2006 10:58 PM

TwoParentsOneSalary:
'We pay mortgages, put money away for college, save for retirement. '

In other words, you choose things and money over time with your children."

Are you kidding me? So, who is taking care of you and your husband in your old age since you clearly have no retirement? Poor children, looks like they will not only have their student loans, but will also shoulder the burden of taking care of you....

Posted by: Ugh! | April 10, 2006 11:02 PM

MM,

Oh please, both sides are just as vicious and Leslies enjoys baiting one side against another. Her blogs are either “its a waste of time being a SAHM” or guilt for being a working mom. It’s rather pathetic.

Hey Leslie,

I have an idea for a blog why not turn wives against husbands. It would be great sport and besides we women need to team up. I bet you could also bring in extra revenue to WaPos for all the divorce lawyers pop-up adds. Leslie you would be a genius.

Posted by: Iowa Mom | April 11, 2006 7:25 AM

"Let's see if we got this right? Centreville Mom falls asleep on the couch from an exhausting week of work instead of watching her child. The child gets into the markers, unobserved by Mom, and paints himself blue. Mom takes her guilt out on the kid in the bathtub.

Sounds like an argument for more stay-at-home moms and fewer work-full-time-and-parent-part-time moms. Really, if you had to choose between your paycheck and your kids, which would it be?"

Excuse me? When did guilt come into it? It took an hour to get the ink off my son - simple fact, no guilt needed or implied.

As to the "which would you choose?", I don't have a choice. I live alone with my son. If I don't work, we don't have a roof over our heads or food to eat. We don't live extravagantly, but I make sure that the bills are paid and that he has everything he needs, including love and attention. It would be lovely to stay at home more with him, but that's not possible right now.

Posted by: CentrevilleMom | April 11, 2006 9:32 AM

Good grief, people, can't you recognize when someone is being sarcastic? Stop jumping all over "Father of 4", and everyone else for that matter. Lighten up.

Posted by: observer | April 11, 2006 10:20 AM

Okay, maybe I'm a little dense, but could someone explain the Pavlov reference?

I know Pavlov was the guy who worked on behavioral conditioning in psychology. His experiment involved conditioning a dog to salivate when a bell was rung. But what the hell does this have to do with Father of 4?

Posted by: I don't get it... | April 11, 2006 12:21 PM

>I don't think it is Leslie's fault that many posters here seem to prove her point -- there really IS a Mommy War.

No, there are a lot of b****es who get off on insulting others.

Posted by: That's how I see it anyway | April 11, 2006 12:26 PM

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