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Changing Family Roles

In two-income families, do men assume an equal share of the everyday responsibilities at home?

Surveys have shown that while many men are willing to help with the grocery shopping and cleaning up in the kitchen after dinner, they still perceive certain tasks as "woman's work," including cooking and doing the laundry. Thus, in these households, there are still some gender-based divisions of chores and responsibilities.

One study found that working mothers average eighteen hours per week of housework, plus ten to fifteen hours per week of child care, while fathers average three hours of housework and two hours of child care per week.

Even so, women who work outside the home report significant benefits associated with their jobs. They describe having higher self-esteem and a greater sense of autonomy. When a mother enjoys her work and gains a sense of satisfaction from it, her children can benefit, perhaps more than if she stays home but is unhappy. When women are bringing home a paycheck they often have more leverage in the family, encouraging greater participation by their husbands in keeping the household running ("I have a job too; let's share more of the responsibilities"). With their own source of income, women may not have to ask their husbands for spending money for their own needs and desires; the result may be a greater sense of independence in the relationship.

The husbands of working wives report that they have more respect for their spouses. And because there are two paychecks instead of one, men say they feel that providing the income for the family is less of a burden. With this decrease in financial pressure, many couples describe improvements in their marital relationship.

Nevertheless, families have adjustments to make when both parents work. Their dinners may become simpler than before. Children may eat less often with one or both parents, they may eat more quickly, and their diet may not be as nutritious or well-balanced. Some parents complain that dinnertimes seem more like meals in a restaurant than with a family at home.

Working parents also often sleep less than they once did, since they need to catch up on household duties in the late evening; women average six to six and a half hours of sleep per night, compared with seven and a half hours in the past. That can cause fatigue the following day, which in turn can affect their productivity and temperament both at work and at home.

Working parents may have less time for each other during the week too. If they do not consciously schedule time for each other and for their individual pursuits, these activities may get lost in the hectic pace of family life. As a result, marriage and family life may not seem as fulfilling. Relationships become more stressed, family members do not feel as close and as involved with one another, and family living can become less enjoyable.

When mothers are in the workplace, they sometimes feel guilty that someone else is assuming the daytime child-raising responsibilities, although that guilt tends to be less when their children are of school age, rather than infants or toddlers. Nevertheless, women are often torn between their careers and spending more time with their youngsters. And when they come home tired at the end of the workday, they may have less energy to give to their family, which can create even more maternal guilt. A University of Maryland study found that in 1985, American parents spent an average of only seventeen hours a week with their youngsters.

Even so, working parents—both men and women—frequently say they appreciate their children more than if they were home all day. Particularly if they enjoy their jobs, they say they look forward to spending time with their youngsters in the evenings and on weekends, even if they are fatigued.

One of the realities of a working parent's life is that he or she will inevitably spend less time with the children. Consequently, those few hours a day that everyone is together become extremely important. As much as possible, make them count.

Last Updated
Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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