Mom: The Designated Worrier

Judith Shulevitz in The New York Times:

As I was thinking about Mother's Day today and read the article below in the NYT, I remembered the following which validates the thesis presented: I once asked my mother that she had raised seven children, did she have a favorite? She promptly said, yes, of course. I was so shocked at this blatant admission and the first thought I had was I will kill myself if it is not me. Who, I demanded nervously. She wisely responded, 'Anyone of you who is vulnerable at the moment becomes my favorite and all my love and attention becomes focused on that child. So all of you have taken turns to be my favorite'.

MothersTHERE’S a story my daughter loves to hear me tell: The day after I came home from the hospital with her big brother, my first child, I was seized by the certainty that I was about to die. I sobbed; I asked my husband: “But who will keep him in socks? Who’ll make sure he’s wearing his little socks?” “Didn’t you think Daddy could put the socks on?” my daughter exclaims, delighted that I’d been so ridiculous. “I wasn’t sure he’d remember,” I say, “or have enough on hand.” New parenthood, of course, does things to your brain. But I was on to something, in my deranged, postpartum way. I should state for the record that my husband is perfectly handy with socks. Still, the parent more obsessed with the children’s hosiery is the one who’ll make sure it’s in stock. And the shouldering of that one task can cascade into responsibility for the whole assembly line of childhood. She who buys the bootees will surely buy the bottle washer, just as she’ll probably find the babysitter and pencil in the class trips. I don’t mean to say that she’ll be the one to do everything, just that she’ll make sure that most everything gets done. Sociologists sometimes call the management of familial duties “worry work,” and the person who does it the “designated worrier,” because you need large reserves of emotional energy to stay on top of it all.

I wish I could say that fathers and mothers worry in equal measure. But they don’t. Disregard what your two-career couple friends say about going 50-50. Sociological studies of heterosexual couples from all strata of society confirm that, by and large, mothers draft the to-do lists while fathers pick and choose among the items. And whether a woman loves or hates worry work, it can scatter her focus on what she does for pay and knock her partway or clean off a career path. This distracting grind of apprehension and organization may be one of the least movable obstacles to women’s equality in the workplace. IT’S surprising that household supervision resists gender reassignment to the degree that it does. In the United States today, more than half of all women work, and women are 40 percent of the sole or primary breadwinners in households with children under 18. The apportionment of the acts required to keep home and family together has also been evening out during the past 40 years (though, for housework, this is more because women have sloughed it off than because men have taken it on). Nonetheless, “one of the last things to go is women keeping track of the kind of nonroutine details of taking care of children — when they have to go to the doctor, when they need a permission slip for school, paying attention at that level,” says the social psychologist Francine Deutsch, author of “Halving It All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works.”

More here.