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Modern family: moms, dads balance work, children, chores differently

Published: Tuesday, July 28 2015 12:31 a.m. MDT

Moms and dads spend roughly the same number of hours a week on paid work, housework and child care, though the breakdowns are different. They also both struggle to balance responsibilities of work and family life, according to Pew Research Center. (Shutterstock) Moms and dads spend roughly the same number of hours a week on paid work, housework and child care, though the breakdowns are different. They also both struggle to balance responsibilities of work and family life, according to Pew Research Center. (Shutterstock)

MIDVALE — Hollie Curtis has already left for work by the time her husband, Aaron, has baby Abigail ready to drop off at the sitter on the way to his own job. In the late afternoon, they do it in reverse, Hollie picking up the 5-month-old baby because her shift ends first.

That also means Hollie is responsible for dinner most nights, while Aaron handles the baby's late-night fussiness. He'll help with cooking on the weekend.

They are one modern American family, juggling work and family time with an evolving set of challenges. A new report by the Pew Research Center says moms and dads who both work — and that's 60 percent of them — spend roughly the same number of combined hours on paid jobs, housework and child care, though the breakdown is not the same. More traditional roles still hold, but moms are working more hours outside the home than they used to and dads are doing a lot more housework.

Abigail Curtis' parents, Aaron and Hollie, juggle baby duty and housework and employment.  (Hollie Curtis) Abigail Curtis' parents, Aaron and Hollie, juggle baby duty and housework and employment. (Hollie Curtis)

50 years later

Parents spend time very differently than they did 50 years ago, says the report, released this week. Parental roles are "converging," and moms and dads share stress about how to balance job and family life obligations and desires.

"Moms are spending more time outside the home and dads are doing more housework," said Kim Parker, associate director for the Pew Social & Demographic Trends Project and one of the report's authors. "There are still gender gaps. Moms are still spending more time with the kid than dads, but dads are there three times more than they were 50 years ago."

Past surveys haven't asked dads how hard it is to juggle work and family and whether they'd like more time with the kids. This one did, and Parker said the findings startled her: 56 percent of working moms and 50 percent of working dads said they find it somewhat or very difficult to balance their responsibilities. Dads were also as likely to say they wish they could be home raising their children, although they were more likely than moms to say they'd like full-time work.

To compare parenting in different decades, the researchers surveyed 2,511 adults across America in late 2012 and captured the past with an analysis of the American Time Use Survey from 50 years ago. That survey included a breakdown of how parents spent their time at work and at home.

Attitudes about work

Researchers also examined more recent surveys to see attitudes about work. There, they found that more women say working full time is their ideal situation, a shift driven more by economics than a quest for fulfillment. They need to put food on the table and provide for the family, Parker said. In 2007, 20 percent of women said they'd prefer full-time work; in 2012, 32 percent did. Low-income mothers, whether single or married, were much more likely to want to work full time than other mothers.

Parker also noted a "disconnect between what women want or need and what society says is best." Only 16 percent of the public feels it's best if women work full-time, but 32 percent of women say they want to work full time.

Time-use data shows how parents spent time in 1965: Mothers spent eight hours a week on paid work and fathers did about seven hours on housework and child care. In 2011, moms averaged 21 hours of paid work and dads did about 17 hours of child care and housework.

Even in families where mom doesn't work outside the house, dads are pitching in more and worrying they don't spend enough time with the kids.

Provo dad Marc Andrus works all day while wife Aubri stays home. They have a set of twins, Abby and Brady, 7, and a son, Cameron, 3. They are also expecting another set of twins.

When he gets home from his job as a financial controller, he says he's not the kind of dad who chucks his shoes and hides out upstairs. "I spend my time with them when I'm home," he said. They wrestle and play games, ride bikes and goof off.

"She makes dinner, so I try to clean up after dinner," he said. On weekends, he recruits one twin to help him clean the bathrooms, while she and the other twin tackle the kitchen.

"My dad worked longer hours and was gone on trips more than I am," said Andrus, who noted that the day is never long enough to do everything they'd like, once work and dinner and cleanup are done. They try to make up for it by spending their Saturdays together.

Not having enough time with Abigail is Aaron Curtis' biggest worry. "My dad was a workaholic and I am of the same ilk. ... So far, I've been lucky enough not to miss too much. I am going to make an effort so that when I can, I will be there."

Other highlights

Most parents feel like they're doing a good job raising their children, the report said. Of parents with children under 18, 24 percent say they do an excellent job, while 45 percent give themselves "very good" marks. Only 6 percent give themselves bad grades. Moms gave themselves higher ratings that dads gave themselves, and working moms graded themselves higher than mothers who are not employed elsewhere.

The report said the gap is widening between married and unmarried mothers. About half of unmarried mothers would like to work full time, while only 23 percent of married mothers say that would be ideal.

While paid work, child care and housework combined take up similar amounts of time for both mothers and fathers in homes where both parents work, it's not true in single-earner households. In those with two working parents, moms put in 59 hours a week total, while dads put in 58. If dad is the sole wage earner, his workload exceeds his spouse's by about 11 hours (57 vs. 46 hours a week). When mom is the sole earner, her total workload exceeds that of her spouse by an average of 25 hours (58 vs. 33 hours a week).

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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