A couple of months ago, my sister-in-law forwarded me an interesting article from the Washington Post:
“Dads are happier than moms. Science wants to know why, and so do I.”
The piece was written by a mother who works from home, is the primary caregiver and also takes care of running the household.
The article cited a study recently published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that determined fathers experience more well-being from parenting than mothers do. It suggested that playtime could be a very important contributing factor, and that dads reported playing more with their kids than moms did.
“Moms and dads both reported being happier when they were talking or interacting with their child (vs. other interactions or activities), but the effect was greater for fathers. The dad happiness advantage was most dramatic for childcare. Fathers reported greater happiness during child care than for anything else they did that day, whereas mothers reported lower happiness during child care than for other activities during the day.”
So, are dads just “naturally” happier and more playful than moms?
There has to be more to it than that, so the writer of the article pressed the author of the scientific study for an explanation and she offered up the following theory:
“…mothers are more responsible for child care in general, and they also have more emotional and invisible labour such as keeping the household running, managing schedules, worrying about their children’s emotions. All of these things are possibilities that could explain why mothers are less happy.”
Now that actually makes a lot of sense to me, as I don’t think anyone is surprised to hear that when it comes to parenting, moms do a lot of the heavy lifting. And who has the energy to remain happy and playful after carrying such a heavy load on a daily basis?That being said, the similar nature of being a stay-at-home dad means much of that emotional and invisible labour mentioned in the study should fall on the father.
I was a bit surprised the article makes no mention if the gender of the at-home parent plays a role in their “happiness quotient”. The stats that I researched for my book are a few years old, but I’m pretty sure the amount of households with stay-at-home dads in the US is now well over 5%, which would put their current numbers in the millions.
So, it’s not some insignificant issue that is easy to gloss over.
This rather glaring omission from the article was also raised in the comments section, where a reader pointed out: “it is curious that the research did not point out the differences between stay-at-home dads and going-off-to work dads levels of happiness.”
Is it possible that dads who work out of the home can come busting through the door at the end of a long day at the office and immediately get the good times rolling with their kids? I think that’s very possible. I also think it could be akin to the “grandparent effect”, where it it’s far more fun to be a grandparent than a parent… mainly because they enjoy the kids, then the kids go away.
Now, I’m not saying it’s exactly the same situation with working dads and grandparents, but the fact that most moms handle far more labor and child care certainly skews things in that direction in most households.
So, where does that leave me?
I certainly qualify as a dad, just not the typical model. I’ve never been that dad who waltzes in the front door at the end of the workday and can immediately turn on the playtime with my kids.
Rather, I have far more in common with my female stay-at-home counterparts… or do I?
Do I REALLY have that much in common with them on this particular issue? I thought that I did! I assumed that I did… until I had a lengthy back-and-forth email chain with my sister-in-law (the one who forwarded me the article in the first place.)
One of the central themes of my book “Dad@Home: Fully Domesticated” (still very much available for purchase if you are wondering) is that stay-at-home dads have it easier than stay-at-home moms… and this whole question of “who is happier” is very relevant to my personal experience.
One of the biggest complaints that stay-at-home moms have is that their husbands do not appreciate or understand the emotional labour they undertake on a daily basis. A very good deep dive into the nature of emotional labour can be found by clicking here , but here’s a brief descriptor from the report:
“I often talk about emotional labour as being the work of caring. And it’s not just being caring, it’s that thing where someone says “I’ll clean if you just tell me what to clean!” because they don’t want to do the mental work of figuring it out. Caring about all the moving parts required to feed the occupants at dinnertime, caring about social management. Caring about noticing that something has changed – like, it’s not there anymore, or it’s on fire, or it’s broken. It’s a substantial amount of overhead, having to care about everything. It ought to be a shared burden, but half the planet is socialized to trick other people into doing more of the work.”
The bottom line is, wives don’t want to be a mother to their husbands.
They want a partner who can apply their intelligence to help manage the logistics of running a family household. The classic hubby refrain: “If you just tell me what you want me to do, I’ll gladly do it” just isn’t good enough. Wives want their husbands to figure out for themselves what needs to get done, and devise their OWN plan to get ‘er done!
Here’s another very interesting article she forwarded me that tackles the issue head-on and explains the value of emotional labour way better than I could. It really made me reevaluate about how I have handled my job as the primary caregiver and household manager… especially in those early years on the job.
I feel this entire discussion has been a reeducation on a topic that I assumed I knew a lot about. Hey, I’ve been living the life of a stay-at-home dad for over 15 years! I should be an expert on everything related to this job!
I will now admit I did NOT do a bang up job in ALL areas of domestic life in my first few years at home.
I simply convinced myself that all I REALLY had to do was change diapers, keep the kids from falling down the stairs and make sure I made dinner. I completely ignored many of the emotional labour duties, as my wife Lianne seemed to be doing that stuff and I figured I was doing more than enough to earn my keep.
I now know that I was sorely lacking at running a truly efficient household, and admit I wasn’t doing all of the stuff a woman in my position would normally do. Was I doing MOST of it? No. HALF of the stuff? Probably? Maybe? I don’t know.
However, I feel that I’ve grown into the job over the years. I’ve become more efficient, more effective and more in tune to what needs to be done. But that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally fall into a lazy lapse and then have to be REMINDED or TOLD to do something.
Yes, I know that sounds crazy.
That should not even be an issue, as realistically, I should be the one deciding and reminding everyone about what needs to be done around the house! Remember, I’m supposed to handling all of that stuff!
I can’t see many working husbands even noticing the little things not getting done, or reminding their at-home wives they’ve been slacking off on the home front. They probably wouldn’t be aware or educated in how IT all works… and the “IT” I’m talking about is the emotional labour, the stuff that weighs down the stay-at-home parent… the stuff that reportedly makes one parent LESS HAPPIER than the other one.
I’m lucky. Lianne knows how IT all works, even if she no longer has to physically deal with or plan out a majority of it. I never have to worry that she needs to be reminded of upcoming family events, basketball games or piano recitals. From time to time, she will pitch in and help around the house (if needed) without having to be asked to pitch in and help around the house.
And there it is. That’s the biggest difference between being a working wife of a stay-at-home dad as opposed to the more “traditional” set-up.
Working wives get IT. Working husbands don’t get IT.
There certainly are exceptions to this general rule, but my guess is they are few and far between. I firmly believe that you have to literally live the life to appreciate IT… and in my case, live IT for several years before IT really sinks in. To my credit, over the years I’ve become considerably less hapless, more hyper-aware of my surroundings, more cognizant of what needs to be done, and more proactive.
But yes, I do have the advantage of having a WIFE, and not a husband to help me along the way.
Lianne would need a more “wifely” partner to make things truly run like clockwork around here, but I’d like to think I’ve gotten much better at it as the years have ticked by… all fifteen of them. Am I the perfect homemaker? No sir, I’m far, far from it. But, on the question of “are stay-at-home dads happier than stay-at-home moms?”, I think the answer is obvious.
Of course we are. We have wives.