The Busy Lives of Stay-at-Home Moms and Dads: Do Full-Time Parents Have Any Free Time?

It’s easy to assume stay-at-home parents have loads of free time, but a new study proves that’s just not the case



Last week during a play date, my friend leaned back in her patio chair — feet up, glass of wine in hand — and said “Take a picture for my husband. He’d love this seeing as I always complain my job is so hard.” Of course, two seconds later she was up getting something for one kid, and then comforting another. This is a common theme in mom-to-mom conversations (and mom-to-dad arguments): While it may seem like the stay-at-home parent gets so much more time to relax and hang out, it’s just not the case. That’s because most of that perceived fun time is “contaminated time,” leisure activities that are combined with something else like housework or childcare. This lovely little term comes from an article in the April issue of Real Simple, about the Families and Work Institute’s “Women and Time Survey.” I was excited to tell my friend to skip the picture and share this article with her husband, highlighting the part where it says “Doing things with children can be enjoyable, but it’s more subject to others’ needs. You still have to be responsible.” Studies show that all this contamination and fragmentation renders women’s free time ineffectual — we don’t get a chance to really relax and recharge — whereas men statistically have “better access to pure adult leisure with no children present.”

According to the study, which surveyed over 3,000 women ages 25 to 54, “fifty-two percent of women have less than 90 minutes of free time a day” (free time is defined as time when one has no responsibilities and is able to choose to do whatever they fancy in the moment), and 46 percent say they are constantly interrupted during that free time. Surprisingly, it’s not work that is the problem, with over two-thirds of women saying “their jobs don’t interfere with their personal lives.” So what does? Basically, all the chores. “Experts argue that women are too mired in obligatory domestic duties, and it’s making us miserable,” says Ruth Davis Konigsberg, who penned the survey’s accompanying article. Of course why we’re mired is the really juicy part: We do it to ourselves, by not delegating. Almost half of women surveyed refuse to give their spouses control over cleaning even though they have “the same, or higher, household standards.” And 64 percent feel that “if they did less around the house, they would feel as if they weren’t taking care of it properly.” The same applies for child care.

So what do these sympathetic experts recommend? That we “shift our standards” and prioritize time for ourselves. “Women who set aside free time on a regular basis even though they had not finished all their chores were happier, more cheerful, and more optimistic.” Seems easy enough, right? Once you get past the guilt and squalor. Sorry, that’s just my inner Martha Stewart talking. I’m off to wash dishes. So I can go to yoga in the morning with a clean conscience.

I’m curious — how much free time do you truly have, and what do you spend it doing? Do you feel like it makes you a saner, happier mom?

And check out this hilarious comic from NickMom. My life in five frames...

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About This Blog

Shannon Gallagher

Shannon Gallagher
Rhinebeck, NY


Dutchess County native Shannon Gallagher is a contributing editor for Hudson Valley Magazine. An erstwhile thrill-seeker, these days she courts disaster of a different variety wrangling a spirited toddler, honing her vegan baking skills, and chasing the ever-elusive work-family balance. She teaches Pilates and does fascial bodywork, and lives in Rhinebeck with Coraline, a cat named Otie, and Sushi the Fish (named, of course, by the toddler).

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