It’s the common feminist narrative: moms want someone else to take care of their kids because child care is not nearly as rewarding as paid work. Housework and child care are mindless drudgery, and women want out.
Don’t you believe it.
New data released by Pew researchers shows that parents—both moms and dads—described “62% of their child care experiences” as “very meaningful.” In contrast, parents described just 36% of work activity as “very meaningful.” (The Pew report, “Parents’ Time with Kids More Rewarding Than Paid Work—and More Exhausting,” is based on time-use studies that include accompanying measures of happiness, satisfaction, and wellbeing.)
It turns out that much of what we do at our jobs is a whole lot less meaningful, to most of us, than the time we spend with our children. Even the time that parents spend on mundane activities, such as managing carpools and schedules or physically caring for very young children, is rewarding, especially to moms. In addition, very few parents (3%) say that their child-care time is “very stressful.” They report that for more than half of their child-care activities (52%), they are not stressed at all. By comparison, work carries more stress: just 20% of parents’ time in paid work is described as “not stressed.”
The new data collides with the feminist narrative, which maintains that mothers are wasting their time and talents when they care for children. For feminists, professional success, fueled by single-minded ambition, is the preferred route to a rewarding life. (And perhaps, for the Sheryl Sandbergs of the world, “leaning in” at work is how they find meaning.)
But for most mothers, it is in family and relationships that they find joy. The time spent caring for others is not wasted time—it’s highly meaningful. It matters to us. In fact, we enjoy it.
Perhaps that’s why the majority of mothers describe part-time work as their ideal. It allows them to apportion their time according to what they find most rewarding, while maintaining the ability to contribute to their family’s financial stability and to the larger community.