The headline over at Care.com was designed to grab eyeballs: “New Study Finds Working Parents Are Too Stressed to Go to the Gym, Call a Friend, or Have Sex with their Spouses.” (At least it was their spouses!) According to a survey commissioned by Care.com, 62% of working parents said they were too stressed to do the activities listed in the headline. A quarter claimed they’d leave their current jobs for ones with less stress and more flexibility.
I find this all fascinating. First, there is survey design. Was “get to the gym, call a friend or have sex with my spouse” all listed as one option? Otherwise, how do you get a neat figure like 62%? If separated out, presumably, you’d find that some number were too stressed to get to the gym, but were fine with sex, and vice versa.
But beyond that… oh, where do I start. Hey, where’s my favorite chart from the American Time Use Survey? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, married mothers who are employed full-time spend 0.66 hours per day socializing. That’s a solid 40 minutes. Dads spend just a minute or two less. Seems like there may be a few phone calls to friends going on in there. We don’t spend much time exercising, but I don’t think that’s because we lack time. Working moms do spend close to 90 minutes watching TV, daily, after all. Married fathers who work full time spend close to 2 hours per day watching TV! We don’t exercise because we don’t want to exercise. Stress is convenient to blame. So is the monster under the bed, or capitalism, if you want to throw that in there. (Actually, dads who work full time spend 0.30 hours per day on exercise and recreation, or a little over 2 hours per week. It’s below the guidelines — 2.5 hours per week — but not much below).
As for sex, people generally do not mention this on time use surveys (they don’t tell researchers when they went to the bathroom either). But… come on. The average mom with a full time job works 36 hours per week. The average dad works about 42.5. If we sleep 8 hours per night (and the ATUS shows we actually sleep a bit more) that leaves 76 hours and 69.5 hours, respectively. Presumably, we could find time for two short romps in there if we wanted.
We have plenty of time for anything that really matters to us. However, we have this cultural narrative that working parents are starved for time. We have no time for fun things in our lives. Our time diaries reveal otherwise, but that’s not the picture we like to create of ourselves.
On one level, so what? We all like to complain. But here’s the problem. All these stories inevitably create an impression for young people that combining work and family is just going to be incredibly difficult. You’ll never get to the gym, call a friend, or have sex again! (Though somehow many of us manage to have more children, so go figure). And so people feel they need to put off having children until the perfect time when they’ve done all the things they want to do, or that if they want a relaxed life they have to work part-time, or that having children is a valid excuse for letting your body and your health go. None of this needs to be true. A big part of my mission with 168 Hours is changing the narrative. As you can see by this Care.com number, it’s a big mission.