Study: Equal Division of Parental Responsibilities May Make for Less Happy Families

a_stayinglovers_artWhile splitting child caregiving duties down the middle may seem like the fairest route a couple can take, a new study published in the January 2011 issue of  Developmental Psychology suggests such a division could very well increase parental conflict.

According to Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, co-author of the study and associate professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University, research shows that the stronger, more successful co-parenting relationships occur when a mother is the primary caregiver and a father spends more time playing with their child—rather than sharing in reponsibilites like preparing meals or giving baths.

Researchers found that “in general, when fathers indicated they played more with their child at the beginning of the study, the couple showed more supportive co-parenting one year later.  However, when fathers said they participated more in caregiving, the couples showed lower levels of supportive co-parenting one year later.”

The findings go on to suggest that couples are more successful when they, simply put, have their own turf. Those attempting to perform the same caregiving tasks in a household are more likely to become competitve and at odds with each other, while those with assigned, non-shared roles (mother as gate-keeper and primary caregiver and father as main activity provider) feel more in control, relaxed and willing to collaborate as a team.

 “I don’t think this means that for every family, a father being involved in caregiving is a bad thing. But it is not the recipe for all couples,” Schoppe-Sullivan said. “You can certainly have a solid co-parenting relationship without sharing caregiving responsibilities equally.”

Where do you stand on the division of parental responsibilites within a household? Tell what works for your family and share your take on this study!

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Parents Magazine, Nancy Cremins and Show and Tell Ideas, slothmother. slothmother said: I'll say! RT @parentsmagazine: Study: Equal Division of Parental Responsibilities May Make for Less Happy Families [...]

  2. by Tiffany

    On January 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Can I NOT LIKE this article more? I’m shocked this has been published and we’re in 2011. Dad’s get to play and mom’s get to work and we wonder why it seems to be more favorable a year later? Of COURSE there’s more WORK involved in properly co-parenting but that doesn’t mean one parent should do all the work!

  3. by Paula

    On January 26, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    I think it is one of those ‘whatever works for you’ kinda things. For us I stay home so it makes sense for me to do the greater share of the housework. If I was working outside the home I would definitely expect him to help more. I wonder how many families they studied etc.

  4. by Katie

    On January 27, 2011 at 11:36 am

    I LOVE this article and totally agree. Now my husband does his fair share of baths and cooking for the kids and stuff like that… but I do more of it and take on that role with ease. That is why I CHOSE to be a stay at home mom. I think it’s unfair to assume that this article is in any way archaic and that most feminists need to take a step back and realize what God made us like. He made men and women different for a reason and we are just better at certain things. There is a LOT of work that goes into parenting no matter how you choose to do it. TO EACH THEIR OWN. No need to slam a certain way of living just because it isn’t your way, it’s narrow-minded and completely unfair.

  5. by Dalene

    On January 27, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Makes sense to me (I’m the mom of 2 – a 3yo son & 1yo daughter):
    I breastfeed the baby, but my hubby otherwise makes all the food (packs breakfasts & lunches, & makes dinner).
    I do all the bathing/cleansing of kids & vast majority of diapering, he takes out the stinky garbage & cleans the bathrooms.
    I do all the laundry & ensure the kids have the clothing sizes they need (& pack away too-small items), he mows the lawn, trims the hedges & snow blows the driveway.
    He works from home & I work in an office – same hours, both full-time.
    We both play with the kids, but he does more often & reads to them more often as well.
    He has more actual chores around the house, while
    I make & track all doc & dentist appts for us all & also plan parties, buy gifts/send cards (social items).
    We take turns vacuuming & spot cleaning (actually my 3yo loves it so he helps a lot with that!).
    ***With a proper division of duties based upon strengths & interests, the work itself can be split 50/50 so that everyone is happy while everything gets done. I believe the title of the article could be changed to be more specific…they are not saying mothers should do everything, but that if parents take turns doing the same duties too often, disagreements ensue because we each complete tasks differently & might compete. Not to sound like I have all the answers, as I certainly don’t, but 50/50 division by task as I described, works much better. We’re a happy bunch :)

  6. by Kristin

    On January 27, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Couldn’t agree more with you Katie! My parents have been married 37 years and my dad never changed a diaper…oh, and they are happy and still very in love!! I’m a SAHM and my husband is in residency, he works 90+hrs. a week and when he comes home, he needs a break! I take care of the home/baby and he takes care of the bills which in turn, take care of his family. God intended marriage to be teamwork but he also intended it to last forever. Maybe some marriages would last a little longer if men/women would stop trying to 50/50 their relationship. My Mimi (dads mom) had a saying, “Marriage is 70/30, sometimes your on the 70 and sometimes your on the 30.” God bless her! So true!

  7. by nicole

    On January 27, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Overall I agree with the article. Running a family is like running a small company. there really can be only one “President” who sets the tone for the family. Typically it is the mom who does this, because it is the mom who spends the most time with the kids. The part I don’t completely agree with is that dad is only responsible for “play”. Dad should back mom up in enforcing the rules when he is around. Dad can help cook and clean, dad can do diapers and other things to help with the kids. But, maybe that is implied in the actual study and not fully expressed in this short article.
    This is how we run our family. I (the mom) make most of the decisions on routines, discipline, care, education, etc for the kids and my husband backs me up. And, he rough-houses with our sons in the way only a dad can.

  8. by jennifer

    On January 27, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    I think this is completely ABSURD. We are FINALLY breaking from the days when men weren’t expected to wash dishes or to, god forbid, change a diaper…this article literally makes me sick. I think this article is an excuse for those women who never recieve help from their spouses to cover up their lack of support and help. I think there is a need for BOTH parents to be involved in the care of their children.

  9. by Jennifer

    On January 27, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    I guess i’ll go burn my bra now… :(

  10. by Tracie

    On January 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    This article is showing the results of a study, and sometimes we disagree with those results.

    However, for those of you who seem so up in arms against it, note that it is focused on the competition and comparison that comes with splitting the SAME chores 50/50. I find that completely true, since if my husband does something I normally do, like the dishes, I’m more likely to find something at fault in how he did it. Instead, he has “his” chores and I have “mine,” like Dalene mentioned. I honestly don’t care how the shoveling gets done or the garbage out, so I’m super excited that he does it.

    If both of you work, then it’s saying don’t take turns with duties, but split them up so one person is “in charge” of garbage or whatever.

    I agree it looks like dads get the easy out, but that was the example they gave, not the focus of the study. It’s funny, since I think the kids like playing with my husband more anyway, since they’re so used to me and he’s new and exciting (he’s also a resident and works 80+ hrs/wk).

  11. by Kathleen

    On January 27, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    I can understand how competitive it might become if parents were sharing the exact same responsibilities 50/50. I would much rather see each parent responsible for certain chores, whatever might work best for your relationship and family. I think the children also appreciate the continuity…and sometimes when dad or mom does the chore they don’t usually do, the kids realize that each has their own way of getting the job done. Anyway you look at it, it’s teamwork!

  12. by Kris

    On February 4, 2011 at 1:53 am

    I never thought of it that way. This works for us because daddy is gone for a job a lot and when he is home his girls want him to play, not parent. When he tries to help with bedtime or dinner they ask for mom to do those duties. They like the rolls we have and it works for our family.