Which Parents Are The Most Tired?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

At some point last year — maybe around when my child woke up wailing at 4 a.m. for the thousandth time — I gave up wondering when I would stop being so tired. For parents of young children, “tired” isn’t a state of being that can be sloughed off with a few good nights’ sleep. It’s an innate condition — the thing I say reflexively when people ask me how I am, the excuse I use for days when everything I touch feels mediocre. Burnout, exhaustion — call it what you want, but I’m not the only one who can’t stop talking about how tired I am. Stories about parental exhaustion are ubiquitous.

Except that burden of fatigue isn’t evenly distributed, and parents are feeling a lot of other things, too. In a newly released survey of 3,757 parents of children under the age of 18 conducted last fall, the Pew Research Center dug into the drama of raising kids in the United States today, asking about parents’ worries and dreams for their children, how caring for kids is divvied up at home and — yes — how tired parents really are. 

The survey found that the stress and worry of parenting are disproportionately affecting mothers and parents of color. But that doesn’t mean the stress is getting to them — the groups that reported higher levels of stress, fatigue and worry were among the most likely to say that having children is rewarding and enjoyable all of the time. Perhaps it’s a kind of parental Stockholm syndrome, where the parents in the most arduous conditions grow to love their misery.

Fathers took on more caregiving responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Pew survey indicates that in most households, the emotional weight of parenting still falls on mothers. According to the survey, mothers are more likely than fathers to say that being a parent is tiring (47 percent vs. 34 percent) or stressful (33 percent vs. 24 percent) all or most of the time. Mothers are also more worried than fathers about whether their children will face hardships, like being bullied or struggling with anxiety and depression, and they’re more likely to say that they experience judgment about their parenting from friends, other parents in their community and other parents online.

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Mothers in heterosexual relationships also reported that they do more child care tasks and their perceptions of the division of labor did not always line up with the way fathers saw things. For example, a majority (58 percent) of mothers say they do more work providing comfort or emotional support to their children, while the same share (58 percent) of fathers said that this task was shared equally. The only area asked about in which mothers and fathers generally agreed that the work was shared equally was on disciplining their children — and even there, 31 percent of fathers said that they did more of the work, compared to 36 percent of mothers. 

So who’s right? Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also supports the idea that women are spending more of their time on most forms of childcare. According to the latest American Time Use Survey, which measures the amount of time people spend on various activities throughout their day, mothers of children under the age of 18 report spending 1.76 hours per day with childcare as their main activity, while men only spent 1.02 hours. When the survey researchers broke it down, women reported spending more time than men on physical care for kids and activities related to their education — but men and women were spending about the same amount of time playing with their kids. (The BLS definition specifically excludes sports from “playing with children.”)

But mothers and fathers weren’t the only groups with different outlooks on parenting. There were also substantial divides by race and ethnicity. In the Pew survey, Black and Hispanic parents expressed more concern than white or Asian parents about their children facing challenges like being bullied, struggling with anxiety and depression, or being beaten up. Other groups suffered from different forms of anxiety: Asian parents were more likely than parents from other racial and ethnic groups to say they feel judged by their own parents at least sometimes, and white parents were more likely to say they feel judged by other parents in their community. 

One of the biggest racial and ethnic divides wasn’t about the downsides of parenting, though — it was about the benefits. Black (39 percent) and Hispanic (39 percent) parents were more likely than white (18 percent) and Asian (13 percent) parents to say that they find being a parent to be enjoyable all the time. There’s a similar — although slightly less dramatic divide — when parents were asked whether they find parenting rewarding.

There’s a tension in those findings. Black and Hispanic parents were more likely to fear for their children’s safety — but they’re also the most likely to find consistent joy in being a parent. There was a similar pattern for lower-income parents, who were much more worried about a wide range of concerns — their children being bullied, kidnapped, beaten up, getting shot, or getting trouble with the police — than middle or higher-income parents, but also were substantially more likely to say they enjoy being a parent all the time. And all of the most worried groups — mothers, Black and Hispanic parents, and lower-income parents — were more likely than other parents to say that being a parent is the most important part of their identity.

Why are the most anxious parents in Pew’s survey also the most likely to find daily joy in raising children? Shouldn’t all that worry make parenting less fun? There could be a lot going on here, including differences in which respondents felt more comfortable reporting an emotion like worry (probably women), or more pressure to say they enjoy being a parent (again, probably women). But maybe it’s simply that the joys of parenting are inextricably linked with its frustrations and anxieties — and the more you have of one, the more you have of another. At least, that’s what I’ll tell myself the next time my daughter keeps me up all night.

Other polling bites

  • The American public has judged embattled Rep. George Santos, and the results are not pretty. A Data for Progress poll conducted from Jan. 20-23 found that only 11 percent of likely voters have a favorable view of Santos, who turns out to have lied about basically everything in his background. Half (50 percent) of respondents have an unfavorable view of Santos — including 38 percent who have a very unfavorable view — and 39 percent say they don’t know enough to say. For context: the poll found Santos well behind some of his Republican colleagues. Twenty-nine percent of Americans have a favorable view of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, 20 percent have a favorable view of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and 17 percent have a favorable view of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
  • Speaking of the House GOP, a CNN poll conducted by SSRS from Jan. 19-22 found that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans think Republican leaders in the House haven’t paid enough attention to the nation’s most important problems, while 27 percent say they have paid enough attention. Of course, not all respondents likely agree on what the nation’s most important problems are.
  • Americans aren’t happy with the fact that classified documents were found in President Biden’s home in Delaware and a Washington, D.C. office, according to another CNN poll conducted by SSRS from Jan. 19-22 — and they think appointing a special counsel to investigate was the right call. About two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans think it’s a very or somewhat serious problem that documents were found in Biden’s home and office, and 84 percent approve of the Justice Department’s decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate.
  • Younger Americans are holding corporations to a high ethical standard, according to a newly released Gallup poll conducted in June 2022. The poll found that 77 percent of Americans ages 18-29 think it’s “extremely important” for businesses to operate in a way that is sustainable for the environment and a similar share (72 percent) say it’s extremely important for businesses to focus on long-term benefits to society instead of short-term profits. Both of those shares are substantially larger than any other age group.

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Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 52.4 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.4 points). At this time last week, 43.4 percent approved and 51.3 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -7.9 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 43.4 percent and a disapproval rating of 51.5 percent, for a net approval rating of -8.1 points.

CORRECTION (Jan. 27, 2023, 10:45 a.m.): A previous version of this story included a chart with incorrect data on mothers’ and fathers’ thoughts about who provided more comfort or emotional support to their children. The shares of mothers who thought mothers did more, fathers did more and both did about equal were incorrect, as was the share of fathers who thought both did about equal. They have been updated.

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