American parents are finding the job much harder than they expected, found a large new survey by Pew Research Center. And it’s not just how they feel — parenting is more demanding than it used to be, research has found.
Eight in 10 parents of children younger than 18 find it to be enjoyable and rewarding most or all of the time, according to the new survey of 3,757 U.S. parents in that group. But two-thirds also say it’s harder than they thought it would be — including about one-third of mothers who say it’s a lot harder than they expected.
The findings reflect and build on other research. Today’s parents spend more time and money on their children than previous generations and feel more pressure to be hands-on.
The survey helps describe some of the particular ways in which parenting has become more demanding and stressful (one-third of respondents said it was that way all or most of the time).
For one, mothers feel increasingly torn between their various roles. They have more options beyond motherhood, yet they still feel societal pressure to meet certain standards as mothers.
In the Pew survey, just one-third of mothers said being a mother was the most important aspect of who they were as a person. Yet they also said they felt judged for their parenting, more than fathers were, and spent significantly more time than fathers on the physical and emotional labor of parenting.
Low-income parents, and those who are Black or Hispanic, were most likely to say that being a parent was the most important thing about them. They were also more likely to say that parenting was enjoyable or rewarding most of the time.
Also, research has found, today’s parents feel intense pressure to constantly teach and interact with their children,
Often, Pew found, this means more emotional engagement. Nearly half said they were raising their children differently than they had been raised by their own parents. That meant less yelling, and more verbal affirmations, outward displays of affection and honest conversations about hard topics.
Another way parenting has become harder, according to the survey, is a new set of concerns about children’s well-being. Three-quarters of parents said they were worried their children would struggle with anxiety or depression, or face bullying.