Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Keeping up with The Times

This past Sunday, the Times reported on an anthropological study based at UCLA. The Center on the Everyday Lives of Families amassed a video record of 32 dual-earner, middle-class families totaling 1,540 hours. They just finished transcribing and coding it. Wow.

Disclaimer: As a graduate student, I was affiliated with a sister center at the University of Michigan.

Among the findings that the Times reported in its article:

Mothers still do most of the housework, spending 27 percent of their time on it, on average, compared with 18 percent for fathers and 3 percent for children (giving an allowance made no difference).

Husbands and wives were together alone in the house only about 10 percent of their waking time, on average, and the entire family was gathered in one room about 14 percent of the time. Stress levels soared — yet families spent very little time in the most soothing, uncluttered area of the home, the yard.


In addition to housework, mothers spent 19 percent of their time talking with family members or on the phone, and 11 percent taking occasional breathers that the study classified as “leisure.” The rates for fathers were 20 percent chatting, and 23 percent leisure — again, taken in fragments.

Hmm. What is this leisure "in fragments" of which the Times speaks? Is this the few minutes I took after supper, while Beanie used the potty and Bubbie tried sitting on his (I am happy to see him exhibiting "potty-readiness"), to read Katha Pollitt's column in the issue of The Nation that just arrived b/c I really just did not feel like, for example, folding the basket of laundry that was sitting at my feet?

Interestingly, the researchers also reported this:

The couples who reported the least stress tended to have rigid divisions of labor, whether equal or not. “She does the inside work, and I do all the outside, and we don’t interfere” with each other, said one husband.

That makes sense to me. StraightMan and I divide our care of kids and home more or less right down the middle. The moments when things feel like they are breaking down are the moments when one of us messes with the other's schedule (I attribute the stress of this more to having to manage a change at the last minute) or worse, meddles with the other's plan or method. I think we basically parent by two rules: (1) We back each other in the moment and avoid disagreement or contradiction in front of the kids (but we admit when we have been mistaken and apologize, to the kids as well) and (2) When one parent is solo in charge of the kids, the other parent does not criticize how he or she manages (like letting kids watch TV).

Actually, now that I have articulated them, I realize they are less rules to parent by and more rules to maintain marriage by.

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