New research from the University of California, Riverside shows fathers experience more well-being from parenthood than mothers.
The findings, recently published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, involves an analysis of three separate studies of a total 18,000 people. To determine whether one of the two genders experiences “greater happiness” from parenting, UCR psychologists and fellow researchers looked at measures of well-being, such as “depressive symptoms, psychological satisfaction and stress.”
The first two studies compared parent well-being with the well-being of folks without children. The third considered parental well-being while interacting with children compared to well-being during other day-to-day activities.
Though both men and women generally reported a higher level of well-being and more happiness while interacting with children compared to other daily activities, fathers reported greater happiness from the interactions. Dads were also more likely to refer to interaction with children as “playing” with them.
This notion of play time, lead author Katherine Nelson-Coffey told the Washington Post, “could offer opportunities for positive emotions, to build connections with the child and to generally feel good.”
But that doesn’t mean parents need to make major changes or that playtime should become another to-do for overwhelmed mothers. Instead, consider incorporating play time in mundane tasks, she said. For example, “instead of just focusing on changing my child’s diaper, I might try to bring some play into that moment to make it a little bit more joyful for everyone involved.”
Do fathers report “playing” with children more because they’re generally happier?
“It’s certainly plausible that fathers who are feeling happy are more likely to initiate play with their children,” Nelson-Coffey told the Post’s Sharon Holbrook, who first posed the question. “I would expect it would become a kind of feedback loop where fathers are feeling happy, so they might initiate more play, and that might make them feel happy, and it becomes kind of an upward spiral.”
But it could also come down to time and labor, which mothers are socially conditioned to take on, according to the UC Riverside research team. Their research shows that mothers “are more responsible for child care in general, and they also have more emotional and invisible labor such as keeping the household running, managing schedules, worrying about their children’s emotions.” These factors might explain why mothers are less happy compared to fathers.
There’s also the fact that the United States is one of only nine countries around the world not to have guaranteed paid maternity leave, and even when companies do offer mothers time off after the birth of a child, their partners rarely get the benefits, leaving the burden of child care on moms.
The lack of workplace support “perpetuates inequities in caregiving responsibilities among opposite-sex couples,” Vicki Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families, said in a 2017 WalletHub report on working dads in America.
Georgia laws do not require maternity leave pay and neither moms nor dads have extensive rights in the state. While moms may have the option to purchase short-term disability policies prior to conception, a way many women earn maternity leave pay, dads cannot file a short-term disability claim for parental leave.
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