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Multitasking: Good or Bad for Busy Dads and Families?

Posted by Fatherhood Admin

This is a post by Chris Brown, NFI's Executive Vice President.

We’ve known for years now that the “housework divide” between dads and moms has decreased with dads doing more of the workload than ever. This development is good news because NFI’s landmark national study on mothers’ attitudes about fathers and fathering called Mama Says found that moms want dads to help out more around the house. But what do we know about the impact of dads doing more in this world of dual-income families who always seem to be multitasking and on the go?

While this closing of gap seems on the surface to be a great development that should have a positive impact on dads, moms, and kids, a recent study reported in the L.A. Times suggests that this new picture of the dual-income American family isn’t quite as rosy as the data suggest. This two-year study examined 500 working mom-dad families from 8 urban and suburban communities. Researchers found that dads and moms did an equal amount of paid and unpaid work but that moms did more multitasking at home than did dads. Moreover, moms experienced more stress than dads about their perceived lack of attention to their families this multitasking requires. Dads, in fact, received a psychological boost from their ability to handle home and work tasks (super dad) while moms felt guilty about the divided attention this kind of multitasking requires.

What should we make of this data, and how should dads and moms respond in these families? A closer look at the study suggests that moms and dads should multitask together (e.g. wash dishes, do the laundry, take the kids to the grocery store). Dads and moms tended to gravitate to different activities with their kids—a sort of divide and conquer strategy. Dads engaged in more focused, fun, interactive activities with their children while moms focused on more routine childcare tasks and doing more of them at the same time. But when moms and dads worked together around the house it reduced the stress for both parents. It seems that dads should take a step back and ask what more they can do around the home together with moms, right? The article suggests as much, but I’m convinced the problem can't be resolved simply by dads and moms doing more work at home together, although that would certainly help.

I’m convinced that working moms and dads need to reduce multitasking. A recent spate of research suggests that multitasking isn’t all its cracked up to be. We’ve come to believe that multitasking makes us more effective when, in fact, it makes us less effective. It divides and conquers families. We’re much more effective and less stressed when we focus on doing one task at a time and doing it well whether at work or at home. Dads and moms can’t be as present and engaged with their kids and with each other when they multitask. Dads must ask not what more they can do, but what less can they and mom can do individually, together, and with their children.

Topics: family, work-family balance, moms, time

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