A new Pew report points out that, on average, fathers have three more hours of leisure time a week than mothers. Dads spend about 27.5 hours a weeks doing things besides paid work, housework, childcare, and personal care, while moms spend about 24.5.
In addition to not getting quite as much leisure time, mothers also report feeling more stressed and tired during it. This might be because mothers’ free time is more likely to be interrupted, or because they have a hard time winding down from all the multitasking they are more likely to do during the day.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, mothers are more likely to report their leisure time as more meaningful than fathers — 63% to 52%.
These findings come from PEW’s analysis of data from the government-sponsored American Time Use Survey.
So what should mothers take away from this?
This could easily be read as a reminder that childcare and housekeeping are hard work and still women’s responsibility, whether they also work outside the house or not. I have no doubt that this is a big part of it, though it is worth noting that this imbalance is slowly leveling, with fathers now doing far more housework than their fathers ever did, and 50% of them feeling the stress of balancing work with family life.
The most direct way women can make sure their husbands continue to close the housework gap, and therefore earn them a little more leisure time, is by telling them what exactly they need to do. Clean the bathrooms. Water the plants. Dinner. Or whatever it is moms need to get off their plates.
But there is another more fun way, and that is by going a little Gandhi and just doing nothing. Kids hungry? No clean socks? Well, too bad, because mommy is reading. Or napping. Or drinking with a friend. Dad will figure something out.
There is no question that fathers continue to need to step up and make sure they are doing their fair share of childcare and housekeeping. But what this new research shows us is that moms can help make this happen too, by boldly engaging in a little more straight chilling. At least as much as their partners do.
So mothers, the next time you want to spend half an hour watching an old episode of “30 Rock” or Googling your high school boyfriend or contemplating the shape of your eyebrows in the mirror remember, this is so much bigger than you getting a little leisure time, it is about equality for all!
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.
How To Close The Housework Gap