Recently MSNBC.com featured a new study in an article titled, Too Helpful Dad, Resentful Mom?: Men involved with child care may hurt women’s self-esteem.
The study found that:
“When mothers perceived fathers to be competent caregivers, the more time those dads spent solo with children, the lower was mom’s self-competence rating [related to caregiving]. But when mothers considered spouses relatively incompetent caregivers, increased father-only time with kids was unrelated to mothers’ self-competence.”
In other words, when dad is good at taking care of the kids, mom perceives herself as less good at it than when she thinks dad is lousy at taking care of kids. But note, it’s not that mom perceives that she’s WORSE at caregiving than dad is, just that she feels LESS good at it if he’s good at it, and BETTER at it if she thinks he’s clueless.
As for why this happens, the study cites the stereotypes I explore in my book, This is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want Today.
“While mothers are encouraged to join the workforce, socially constructed ideals of motherhood requires mothers to be primary caregivers,” said study researcher Takayuki Sasaki of the Osaka University of Commerce in Japan. “Thus, employed mothers may feel pressured to do more care-giving to ensure the survival of their feelings of self-competence, even though they may wish for fathers’ increased participation to lessen their burden.”
“In American society, women are expected to take a main role in parenting despite increasingly egalitarian sex roles,” Sasaki said. “Thus, we believe that employed mothers suffer from self-competence losses when their husbands are involved and skillful because those mothers may consider that it is a failure to fulfill cultural expectations.”
Yes, AND that also means mothers are fighting the flip-side negative stereotype, in their own heads and in the world around them. A negative stereotype that says:
woman + kids + employment = mother who is selfish and neglects her kids
Fighting all these stereotypes can be exhausting, but I don’t think it’s bad that mothers feel less competence in family care if the result is that both spouses perceive a more EQUAL competence that makes it easier for them to share family care with each other. Seems to me that the problem is precisely the scenario where there is a BIG difference in perceived competence in caregiving. When both spouses believe SHE’S the only one that can care for family well and HE’S clueless, they are less likely to be successful in sharing the family work. And that’s when RESENTMENT sets in.
Plus, buried at the bottom of the article are the other benefits for dual-earner couples in which father is involved in family care.
“…the study showed work hours can boost a woman’s perception of self-competence. And a father’s care-giving was linked with a mother’s marital satisfaction.”
So moms, here’s to feeling less competent. It has its advantages!
For more on this topic, check out these blog posts:
- Identity Disconnect: Stereotypes about Mothers & Fathers Can Divide Us
- Interview with Equally Shared Parenting Authors Marc and Amy Vachon
- Shared Parenting is Possible; If You Know Why It’s Hard
Plus this link to the Remodeling Tools in my book.