Working mothers have long scoffed at the idea of weekends as downtime. That concept is as ludicrous as thinking of maternity leave as vacation. Weekends are merely the two days when working mothers can take a break from their paid work while their non-paid work often increases. It's a different story for fathers. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, "When it comes to leisure, fathers take full advantage of the weekends."
Analysis of the Pew data shows fathers average 5.5 hours of leisure time per day on the weekends while working mothers average 4.3. Working mothers do scale back the amount of time they spend on childcare on the weekends from 1.7 hours per day to 1.3 but they increase the time spent on housework from 1.8 hours per day to 2.7. Meanwhile, fathers spend almost the same amount of time on child care during the weekend as they do during the week (1 hour v. 1.1 hours) but increase the time they spend on housework from 1.1 hours to 2.
Meanwhile, there's more and more research available on just how important downtime is. A recent New York Times article reported that, "Strategic renewal boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health." Activities such as exercise, naps, sleep and time away from work are all considered strategic renewal. They are also all considered leisure activities per the U.S. Census Bureau, which conducts an annual survey of how Americans spend their time. But working mothers aren't getting enough. Neither are mothers who don't work outside the home; they're only clocking 4.9 hours per day of leisure time on the weekend. It's no wonder that per the Center for Disease Control, 15.3 percent of women report feeling tired or exhausted everyday.
With more and more women serving as breadwinners for their families and women carrying a larger load of housework and childcare, it's more important than ever that we close the leisure gap. Women need some R&R in order to excel at work and at home. And to find that downtime, we need to start by closing the housework gap.
First, fathers need to acknowledge the gap exists and that it has negative consequences. It's bad for families, for businesses and for the economy overall, which is dependent on women's full participation in the workforce. Second, couples need to share the invisible tasks, not just the physical chores. Invisible tasks are the tasks the U.S. Census Bureau categorizes as managerial tasks and mothers are doing more of them than men -- tasks like scheduling doctor's appointments, registering for camps, sorting kids' clothes by size and season, sending thank you cards. Invisible tasks don't necessarily show up on a chore list, but they still require time and mental energy. As one woman I interviewed for my book (about how working mothers balance career and home) told me, "There are few moments that I can just kick back and relax without worrying about all the things I have yet to check off my list. It's fueled some of the controversy in our house, since my husband does a better job of unplugging even if it is for just a few minutes." Women for their part, can make these invisible chores more visible and ask their partners for the help they need.
In order to achieve equity in the workforce, in Washington, in the world, we need to achieve equity in our homes. So I, for one, am going to start by taking a nap. If I'm going to ask others to close this gap, I need to practice what I preach. And when I wake, I'll get right back to work -- at home and in the office.