Raising kids is part joy and part guerilla warfare.Parenting styles are constantly evolving, thanks to the ever-changing familial structure in the United States. There was a time when children made economic sense - as extra hands to work on a farm, or to help you run the business if you had one. The changes brought about by modernization included financial prosperity, causing parents to view their children as a moral responsibility. The bar on parenting had been raised, with children which had to be sculpted, stimulated, instructed, and groomed to be model citizens of the future.
- Ed Asner
Raising children became expensive, making it imperative for the average dad and mom to bring home a sizable dough each month. The result? Parenting took on a different meaning, moving away from the stereotypes, and the latest surveys are just about affirming it.
The concept of the stay-at-home dad is relatively new, but the concept of the stay-at-home mom isn't very old, either. During the women's liberation movement of the 1960s, it started to become more acceptable for women to enter the workforce rather than staying at home with their kids. As a result, mothers today spend significantly more time at work than they used to. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center report, the average mother in 1965 spent just 8 hours per week on paid work, compared to 21 hours in 2011.
For fathers, the trend is to spend more time with the family and less at work, although men still spend much less time with their kids than women do. In 1965, fathers spent an average of only 2.5 hours per week directly engaged in child care, and an average of 42 hours per week at work. By 2011 fathers were spending 7 hours per week with their kids and 37 at work. This shows that family is more important to today's fathers than it used to be, but there is still a long way to go before kids get the same amount of time with dad as they do with mom.
Despite changes in how we navigate work and family life, about half of fathers and a little over half (56%) of mothers report having a somewhat difficult or very difficult time balancing job and family responsibilities. Difficulty creating the right work-life balance can lead to stress, decreased productivity at work, and weaker family relations. There is a growing trend in workplaces toward flexibility, though, and it's becoming increasingly acceptable to demand that employers make space for parents to raise their families.
Interestingly, working mothers in the United States seem to be increasingly interested in maintaining robust careers even while they raise their children. Pew reported that, among mothers who are already in the workforce, 37% say that working full-time is the life they prefer. In 2007, that number was only 21%. The dramatic increase might indicate that today's mothers value their careers and believe that they can still be good parents while remaining a part of the working world. Among mothers who work, 42% say that their reason for working is more than just the extra money, and that they prefer to work even though it takes away from family life.
Even though there are more mothers today who work because they want to work and who feel they can be good mothers and have careers at the same time, statistics seem to show that working mothers are less happy on an average than mothers who stay at home. Pew Research Center found that 45% of stay-at-home moms report being "very happy" in life, compared to only 31% of working moms. Parents who report having trouble balancing work and life are less likely to be happy than those who manage to get the balance right.
What does all this data really tell us about parenting in the United States? We know that things are changing, but what do these changes say about society, and where are we headed? One possible answer is that people are starting to think more about what's best for themselves and their children, looking at things from more perspective than just the money perspective. Quality of life is becoming more important to everyone, and Americans are adjusting the way they live accordingly. It's unlikely that society will be turned upside down by these changes, but traditional ways of living may become less and less common as each family negotiates what works for them.