This is not only false, it’s also nonsensical.
Again, I spoke with BLS to get the latest statistics from the ATUS. In fact, moms spend slightly more time “playing with household children” each day. It’s not a huge difference — just under two hours for moms and just over an hour and a half for dads. But this “playing” category does not include sports. And there’s no breakdown available specifically for employed parents with kids. Since our work structures keep men in the office for more hours and push women to stay home more, women do more overall, so of course that would include fun activities.
Still, what makes this myth nonsensical is summarized by this passage from the upcoming international version of my book:
Couples make choices about who will do what. And the suggestion that playing with the kids is the fun part, while all household chores are sheer misery, belies any real understanding of the modern family…
Lots of parents, both men and women, find some cleaning tasks therapeutic, me included. For example, I do the dishes in our home. There are five of us, so that means a lot of dishes throughout the day. I like it. For those minutes, I get to “zen out.” A woman I know, a mom of three, feels similarly. “That’s me time,” she says. “I get to say, ‘Leave me alone, I’m doing dishes!’” My wife feels this way about the times she turns on music and folds laundry.
Meanwhile, as much as parents love spending time with our children, playing with them can be a much more exhausting, all-encompassing task. If I tell you that I played with my kids at the playground, you may imagine a time filled with frolicking, laughing, and rolling around. Here’s a more typical scenario: As soon as we arrive, one of the kids realizes he needs to go to the bathroom. He could have gone at home before we left, but of course he didn’t. And there are no bathrooms, so I have to walk him somewhere. But before I can, one of my other kids comes running over saying he needs a snack. He could have had one right before we left, but he’s welcome to reach into the bag and take one I packed to bring with us. And, of course, he needs help opening it. Meanwhile, my daughter calls for me because she has climbed to the top of something that she knows she should not be on because it’s for older kids. But she really wanted to, and now I have to go get her down safely. My kid who needs to go the bathroom is upset about all these delays. It’s a round robin of competing needs.
I’d feel much more relaxed at home doing dishes in peace and quiet. But I love my kids and treasure every moment with them, remind myself what a blessing it is, sip some caffeine, and keep going.
Here’s what’s actually happening: Our work structures are acting like gender police, pushing women to stay at home and men to stay at work. By the time a dad gets home, the kids often want “daddy time,” the mom often wants a break from the kids, and the couple decides together that he’ll take them out and play while she does something in the house. He’s been working all day, she’s been working all day. They both continue working in other ways, either through childcare or household tasks.
Suggestions that dads are refusing to do housework and moms are simply allowing that to happen are another way this myth is offensive to women. Moms expect, and are building, egalitarianism in their marriages, just as dads are.