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Two-year-old Julia nibbles delicately at her pizza slice while she watches her family members talk as they sit around the dinner table. In a sliver of silence, the toddler seizes her opportunity to join the conversation with a remarkably detailed recount of her afternoon with “Nana.” Julia’s 5-year-old brother, Quinn, waits his turn to announce he has a homework assignment that involves weather tracking. The children’s parents, Matt and Colleen Groves of Hudson, respond enthusiastically to their children’s commentary and say they savor these unhurried and simple times together as a family. Individually, however, these partners view the quantity and quality of time they spend with each other as spouses, and with their children, slightly differently. While Colleen desires more carefree time with her husband and children, Matt favors more time overall with Colleen, Quinn and Julia.
“There just aren’t enough hours in the day,” says Kent State University sociologist Susan Roxburgh, who quotes the title of her recent study, which reveals how time pressures impact women and men differently. Working, married mothers, such as Colleen Groves, feel the brunt of rushed and fettered time with their youngsters and spouses, while their husbands, predominantly the family’s major breadwinner, face pressures associated with simply having too little time with their wives and children.
In her survey of 790 married workers throughout Northeast Ohio, Roxburgh posed such questions as: Do you often feel rushed with your children? Do you have time to enjoy your children? Do you worry that you and your spouse don’t have enough time together? Respondents, who answered according to a Likert scale, with attitudes ranging from strong agreement to strong disagreement with each question, revealed that only one in five people are completely satisfied with the time they spend with their spouses and children. Trends of the study, published in the Journal of Family Issues, underscore that both men and women equally want to slow down the pace of time with their spouses. Meanwhile women, in particular, want to improve the quality of time they spend with their husbands. And only women expressed that a hectic pace affects the time they spend with their children.
Colleen, a part-time pharmaceutical sales representative for PDI, primarily runs the Groves’ family household, juggling cooking, cleaning and child caretaking with career demands that place her on the road, several miles from home, and hold her responsible for chalking up 130 doctors’ signatures a month. “I’m working even when I’m not on duty, taking calls and answering e-mails from colleagues. I’m not the playful one,” Colleen says, describing her parental role, which routinely involves driving Quinn to and from preschool and Julia to her babysitter.
Matt, who serves as president and CEO of Environmental Wall Systems in Solon, says he has less time with his children than he desires, but the quality of that time, he points out, brings him satisfaction. “I do wish I had more time, but Colleen gets most of the caretaking out of the way,” Matt says, adding that his 6 p.m. arrival home from work on weekdays allows him enough time to have dinner with his family, bathe his children and top off their days with bedtime stories.
While Matt’s evening child-caretaking ritual might defy the norm and take some burden from Colleen, Roxburgh says that women’s increased participation in the workforce and unmet parenting ideals weigh heavily on working mothers.
“We’ve altered the landscape of family life by women entering the workforce, but we haven’t done anything about multiple expectations of family life. This resonates for most parents, the guilt of women, working and having children. Women spend most of their time moving their kids as quickly as possible through their schedules and casual conversations are not possible when you’re rushing to get your kids on the bus in the mornings. This is usually the woman’s responsibility. Men escape this. We haven’t thought about it as a social problem and we need to get people thinking about these issues so we can think about what families are experiencing as a societal problem, not a personal failure to live up to societal expectations,” says Roxburgh, who adds that turning to equalized, dual parenting as a solution would only further distribute the guilt.
At the Groves’ home, Colleen says a weekly cleaning service could prove beneficial by allowing her uncomplicated time with her children. “Much of the time I’m with the kids, I’m cleaning up only to do it all over again when the kids are there [creating the next clutter],” she says. “If I had a cleaning person one day a week, the kids and I would do something fun. We’d go right to the park or just to the library, no errands.”
Women desire enhanced time with their husbands as well, according to Roxburgh, who asked her study participants if they wished to change anything about their time with their spouses. “In open-ended data, women were more likely to say they wanted more improved-quality time with their spouses,” Roxburgh says. “I think that’s consistent with what we know about marital relations. Women are more acutely aware of distractions. One woman said she would like to blow up the TV.”
The Groves say they spend time together working out in their basement when their children are asleep, but rarely share dates out together exclusively. “We don’t get much time alone, maybe once a month out to dinner, and often with the kids,” Matt admits.
Today’s parents actually spend more time with their children than their parents spent with them as youngsters, according to Roxburgh, who says that adult time was more defined generations ago. “People are spending time with their friends, but bringing the kids along,” she says. “In the ‘60s, parents were living separate lives than their children.”
Distracted and fast-paced, time pressure even impacts women and men’s volunteer lives differently. While women’s volunteer roles often involve activities such as baking or school party planning, such as for Colleen, men experience less pressure from their volunteer work, such as in Matt’s case, providing weekly Bible study at a juvenile detention center. “It takes time and energy, yet it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done,” Matt says.
Such engrossing activities, which take people out of the stream of everyday life, tend to provide the most satisfaction, Roxburgh says. The married father coaching his child’s baseball team, for instance, finds tremendous contentment as he sits on the sidelines consumed by a game.
“People are most relaxed when they’re involved in an engrossing activity, completely unaware of time and not thinking about anything else,” Roxburgh says. “People have a strange notion of how to be relaxed, to do nothing and veg in front of the TV. We know that after a long period of watching TV, people are more depressed. What TV offers them is a display of other people’s lives. There are several components involved and we don’t fully understand it, but it’s not an engrossing activity.”
While carving out time to spend together with their spouses and children in an engaging activity won’t solve the societal problem of time pressure as a whole, married mothers and fathers can find satisfaction in the simplest times with their children and with each other, Roxburgh says.
“It doesn’t have to be an intellectual activity or be for a long period of time. A 15-minute walk with your dog and child will make a difference,” Roxburgh explains. “At the same time, if you recognize that’s all it takes, you’re rethinking your values.”
Freelance writer Denise Henry is the mother of two teenagers and former editor of Akron Life & Leisure.