One of my accomplishments this past year was perfecting my ability to do more than one thing at a time -- a skill honed in those harried decades of child rearing when getting chores done involved all my fingers and toes and then some. Now I've managed yet one more mind-bending feat: I can blow dry my hair at the gym while watching TV news in the mirror.
This may sound like banal boasting, but I'm forever looking for ways to maximize my time. Waiting at the grocery store checkout line? Phone an aunt for her birthday. Baby-sitting the grandchildren? Bake the rum cake for the holiday party. Catching up on old episodes of NCIS? Fold the sheets and towels.
There's always so much to do and so little time to do it in.
Now that the last of my kids is off in college, I experience deja vu moments while watching young mothers flit from one duty to another. I suspect, however, that this multitasking has gotten worse in my daughter's generation because today's working mothers must contend with technology that demands their eternal attention and vigilance.
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Down time? Now a two-year study of 500 middle-class, dual-earner families confirms what I -- and women everywhere -- know: Even as modern dads help out more, the burdens of household and children continue to fall disproportionately on moms. Mothers spend almost 10 more hours per week multitasking on chores than do their husbands. And they're stressed out because of it.
Published earlier this month in the American Sociological Review, the study drew a nuanced portrait of modern domestic life, with frazzled mothers not only devoting more hours to household chores but also doing more multiple activities than fathers. The difference was perhaps most obvious in the way fathers and mothers defined the transition time from work to home. Dads got an "elevated, positive effect," but moms called that second shift "the arsenic hours."
It's not that the guys haven't stepped up to the plate. They have, they have -- and I see it with my own sons, as they rush home from work to roll up their sleeves and attack the dishes in the sink. But even in this era of increased gender equity, women continue to shoulder not only the labor-intensive duties but also the guilt.
"Mothers carry this deep, fundamental concern about their children's care," study co-author Barbara Schneider, a sociologist at Michigan State University, told the Chicago Tribune. "It's not that fathers don't, but Dad is more of a helper, while Mom is command central. Why? Because she's afraid people won't think she's a good mom."
The facile response would be to urge fathers to do more, but that won't be enough. We mothers think we have to fill every waking moment with a productive task, a teachable moment. As if that alone would ensure our membership in The Good Mom Club.
As a mother who has been there and done that, I look back and wonder if it wouldn't have been better to do less. Less driving around. Less tidying up. Less frantic rescues of children who had missed the bus or forgotten their homework.
Certainly, if I could do it over again, I would worry less about what the rest of the world thinks.
Ana Veciana-Suarez's column appears Sunday.
Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza,
Miami FL 33132, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
McClatchy News Service