Husbands, for the sake of your wives’ self-esteem, stop taking your kids to the park.

That’s one conclusion we can draw from this study. A possible flaw in its design: could it be that many fathers who pick up more slack than their counterparts are doing so in response to actual shortcomings in the care provided by their wives, thereby biasing the results?

A better study (though harder to conduct) would control not for the number of hours moms spend with their children, but for their performance during those hours. It would thus examine whether mothers who spend an average amount of hours and perform adequately at mothering during those hours still feel lowered self-competence when their husbands step up their own involvement.

Or we could measure the wrong variable — time spent by mothers with their children — as this study appears to do, and then blame societal gender roles for the guilt we turn up.

Whatever we do, it’s hard not to feel guilty as parents, like we’re not doing enough, like we could do better, like we’re going to turn them into serial killers. This is especially, I’ve found, how good parents feel. Many of us probably could stand to cut ourselves some slack.

On the other hand, especially when both parents are pursuing careers, and then we add all the extracurricular time commitments and the sheer burden of commuting faced by the modern family, maybe that little voice telling us our kids need more — or different — than what we’re giving them has some wisdom behind it.

I suppose in the end it’s better that we feel insecure about whether we’re doing a good job, and at the same time remember to give ourselves some grace in spite of our failings.


  1. nichole

    Agreed — on your last paragraph. Guilt is a warning light. One to examine, but if baseless, to turn off; if based in fact, to acknowledge it and make necessary changes. We’re a 2 career family, but hubby works from home and my parents live with us. My husband is the primary caregiver during the week; I am on the weekends. A support network is essential for my busy career. I can easily see how women mark themselves lower because they aren’t the mothers their moms were (always at home), they are overstretched in a society that says they can have and do it all (you can’t), they aren’t measuring up to everything they are told to do in a kid-centric society (e.g., perfect birthday parties, going to all the new movies, enrolling kids in every class, etc.), or they aren’t measuring up to what their church/extended family/friends think they should be as a mom (e.g. to want and to have a career is selfish for a woman, but an act of providing for the family if you’re a man). The mommy wars continue to plague us. In the end, we had to decide what worked best for our family and run with it — to heck with what everyone else thinks.

  2. Sarah

    I thought the study was flawed–my husband parents quite differently than I, but why should he parent the same?! There is positive and negative with each of us. Now, that my kids are older (11 and 14) I have to sometimes force myself to step back: let my kids experience more independence. They surprise me in so many ways. I wish I had been more laid back like my husband when they were little.

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