Chasing after them, feeding them and keeping them busy keeps us so busy. There’s so much that goes into taking care of children that, at the end of the day, a mom might feel emotionally, mentally and physically drained. I know I do sometimes, to be honest.
And it’s not just the little ones that leave us exhausted: Research shows that our partners actually stress us out more than our kids do.
In fact, a 2013 TODAY survey of 7,000 moms revealed 46% percent of moms say their husbands are a bigger source of stress than kids. Those same moms rated their stress levels an 8.5 out of a 10-point scale, according to the survey results.
So why do our partners cause us more anxiety than our kiddos? Studies show that how parents split responsibilities can affect who feels more stress more than the other. And more often than not, it’s mama.
According to a 2017 study published in the journal Sex Rules, moms spent more time than dads taking care of the kids and housework, while dads spent more time than moms relaxing on their days off. Specifically, Ohio State University researchers found that mothers, on average, have less than an hour of leisure time; fathers, on the other hand, had about 101 minutes.
Doing more than two tasks at once also contributes to uneven stress level. A 2011 American Sociological Review study discovered than moms dedicate 10 more hours a week to multitasking compared to dads. In turn, mothers felt more stress, psychological distress, negative feelings and work-family conflict, according to the study’s findings.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Dads, there’s so much you can do to help your partner, reduce their stress and get the most out of fatherhood.
It all starts with how we view parenthood. Although millennial dads spend three times as much time with their kids as men two generations ago, the majority of parenting duties still defaults to mama early.
Want to change this dynamic? Here are just a few ways:
1. Get on diaper duty
Polls show 52% of today’s dads admit they change diapers less often than their partner does, but that’s some progress from 1982, when 43% of dads reported never having changed a diaper. But fathers, you can do better—and not just for your partner, but for yourselves. Studies found that dressing, diapering and bathing helps dads form stronger relationships with their little ones for years to come.
“If his dad wasn’t as involved as his mom, he doesn’t have an internal template for what a fully participating father might look like,” Jill Whitney, licensed marriage and family therapist, previously told Motherly. “He may also compare himself to his own father and see the ways he’s much more involved than his dad was—when his partner may see the ways things aren’t really even.”
2. Take over more chores
It’s not always possible to split household responsibilities down the middle, but you should try to balance them as much as possible. That could mean cooking dinner four nights a week or doing the laundry every week.
Not only would that help mama relax more, but it would also help strengthen your relationship. Research shows that partnerships suffer when moms take care of 60% or more of parenting duties.
“Women who are mothers and also work outside the home often feel they handle more domestic responsibilities—and they often do,” Whitney says. “They look at the householding and childcare that gets done, see that they handle much more than half of it, and resent their husbands for not carrying more of the weight.”
3. Alleviate their mental load
If you want to help relieve your partner’s stress, help them unload. Many mamas are weighed down by everything they have to do. They can become overwhelmed by their checklist of tasks and feel guilty for letting things go undone. Check in with your partner every day to see how they’re doing, where they need help and what you can do for them. It could be as simple as listening to their problems.
“I think, first of all, the pressure of being a good parent and the pressure of having a good, well-run, clean house—that pressure’s on women,” Claire M. Kamp Dush, Ph.D., an associate professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University and co-author of the New Parents Project, previously told Motherly.
“Even so when children are first born, [moms are] managing all of this workload, they’re scheduling things for the baby, they’re nursing… So even from the time of their maternity leave, when they’re on break, they’re worrying about those appointments and men aren’t.”
Studies show that parents tend to feel more stress than people without kids, but when co-parents share responsibilities equally, motherhood and marriage get a lot less stressful.
[A version of this post was originally published March 8, 2018.]