The New Multitasking: How Moms Do It Differently Than Dads - And Why They Don’t Like It

By Cheryl Lock

Learn about the challenges working moms face when juggling multiple tasks from LearnVest.

Multitasking. As a mom, you might as well put that talent on your résumé.

Take an average working mom’s morning, for example. It’s 6 a.m. You’re checking your BlackBerry work messages while talking your 6-year-old out of the same pink tutu she’s worn for the past three days, before heading to the kitchen to make everyone’s breakfasts and lunches.

And all this before your morning coffee.

A new study published in the American Sociological Review found that while moms and dads spend more time working on two or more things simultaneously at home and at work, working moms not only multitask more frequently (at a rate of 48.3 hours per week compared to 38.9), they also experience more negative emotions as a result.

His and Hers Multitasking

“Working moms in our study experienced higher levels of stress regarding multitasking activities at home,” says study co-author and sociologist Barbara Schneider, Ph.D., of Michigan State University. “And even though dads have increased the time they’re spending on their children and helping, their ‘multitasking’ at home often includes paid work experiences, like being in front of the computer or talking to a client on the phone. Mom’s multitasking is different.”

According to the study, based on urban and suburban middle-class families, both mothers and fathers work about 64 hours a week on job- and home-related duties, but that’s where the numbers diverge: Moms report that housework accounts for 53% of their multitasking at home, as compared to just 42% for dads. And even the way parents divvied up the time they devoted to childcare (36% for moms, 28% for dads) varied, with fathers reporting that their time was focused on ‘fun’ activities, like coaching a sports team or playing games with their kids.

That’s not all. The fact that we’re more likely to be stressed by our at-home multitasking suggests that the balancing act makes us feel like we aren’t being good mothers. “The bar is rising on what it means to be a good parent,” Dr. Schneider says. “Moms don’t feel the number of hours they are spending multitasking count as spending quality time with children, even when it involves childcare.”