July 8, 2019

Modern Parenthood

Parents juggling demands at work and home

Carrie Clark grew up with a mom who quit her banking job to stay at home to raise four kids. Watching her struggle to reenter the job market after a divorce made Carrie determined to keep working after having her own two daughters.

“I want to be able to provide for my family and myself. If someone is there helping, great, but you never know what is going to happen,” says the Eden Prairie, Minnesota, chiropractor, whose husband, Robert Tupa, an engineer, also works full time. His own father was a traditional breadwinner who didn’t help out much at home, but Robert is more involved with raising their girls, ages 11 and 15 — tailoring his hours to cover the home front on the two days a week when Carrie goes in early to her office.

When Carrie and Robert had their first child, Robert worked nights and weekends to start a new business, so much of the parenting workload fell on Carrie for the first six or so years. “That was hard on Carrie. It was really challenging. Now, the business has matured and I’m able to flex my schedule, go in as I need,” says Robert. “If the girls need something…unless I have a meeting with a client, I can handle things. So, it’s gotten a lot better.”

Carrie and Robert are part of a growing portion of parents who both work outside the home and are coping with the dual demands. This trend is reflected in U.S. Census Bureau data that show that, as of 2015, in 46 percent of households with a mother and father, both parents are employed full time. That’s up from 31 percent in 1970, according to an analysis conducted by the Pew Research Center. 

Overall, women are spending on average 14 hours a week on child care, up from 10 hours a week in 1965. Men are also doing more child care — about eight hours a week on average in 2016, compared with 2.5 back in 1965. 

For Clark and Tupa, flexibility with their jobs helps them tag-team child-focused responsibilities such as meeting their kids at the bus stop or driving them to a dance rehearsal or soccer practice. Still, they often find themselves struggling to manage their work and home life. 

As recently as 1975, about half of women (47%) with a child under 18 were working; that number grew to 70 percent in 2015. “That’s an extremely dramatic change in what hasn’t been that long a period — just over one generation,” says Gretchen Livingston, senior researcher at the Pew Research Center.

Pew Research finds that about 8 in 10 adults (77%) say women face a lot of pressure to be an involved parent; a significantly smaller share (49%) say the same about men. In contrast, 76 percent of adults say men face a lot of pressure to support their family financially, while only 40 percent say women face this type of pressure.

76
Percent of Americans say men face a lot of pressure to support their family financially.

“The pressure works both ways,” Livingston says. “On the one hand, there has been a lot of change in recent decades, but to some extent these more traditional roles are still in place.”

For Vanessa Phillips, it’s been rough to manage the travel required with her job and care for her kids, ages 2 and 6. She climbed the corporate ladder from her 20s to her 40s and now works as a director at a company that provides immigration services to international corporations. But the Annapolis, Maryland, mom has a home office and relies on help from her husband, Brad, as well as babysitters, day care, and her live-in mother-in-law to make it work overall.

“I can’t really give up my career now or go part time because it would take a long time to get back up,” says Vanessa. She says she knew it would be bumpy juggling work and kids but didn’t realize how hard it would be emotionally to balance spending time with her kids and maintaining her professional life. “The biggest challenge is feeling as though I need to do as well as my male counterparts do — and even better,” she says.

The biggest challenge is feeling as though I need to do as well as my male counterparts do — and even better.

Vanessa Phillips

Just like moms, many of today’s dads find it tough to balance work and family life. About half of working dads (52%) said in a 2015 survey that it is very or somewhat difficult, compared to 60% of working mothers who said the same. 

For Brad, the balance isn’t so much about managing his professional life and family as it is figuring out how to get things done at home and still have time for fun with the kids.

“Before I became a dad, I had this illusion that I would be perfect — to make up for all the time my dad wasn’t there — and be there for my son every waking moment,” says Brad. “I found it does require an element of balance. There are obligations you have to the family as a whole that need to get done and you do those, as well as allot time for your kids.”

Still, Brad says it’s important to carve out time for his own interests — pottery, singing, and exercising. His advice for other parents: “You need some time for yourself. In providing that for yourself, you’ll actually be in a better state to help your kids. There is no real element of perfection with all of it. It’s a process. And it’s something you need to work at.”

 

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