From 2002 to 2005, before the days of reality TV, UCLA recruited 32 local families who agreed to let themselves be videotaped during every waking, at home moment during a week. It was a sociological study aimed at a new “species”: The dual-earner, multiple-child, middle-class American household. They filmed 1, 540 hours of videotape, coding and categorizing every hug, every tantrum, every soul draining search for a missing soccer cleat.
What their 9 million dollar analysis found was that the American family is a fire shower of stress, multitasking, and mutual nitpicking. Moms still did most of the housework, spending 27% of their time was on it. Fathers spent 18% of their time doing it, while the kids spent 3% of theirs.
The real stress came, however, not from the amount of house work, but from the combined necessity to manage so many schedules and the inevitable battle of agendas that occur when so many live together. One anthropologist compared it to a theater production. Elinor Ochs said that coordinating the family was more complicated than a theatrical production and “there are no rehearsals.”The videotapes reveal parents as at-home teachers, enforcing homework deadlines. As coaches and personal trainers, sorting through piles of equipment. As camp directors, planning play dates and weekend “family time.”
Occasionally, those being filmed would pause to spit into a vial. Four times a day, the scientists took these saliva specimens and measured the amount of cortisol in each. (Cortisol is a key hormone associated with stress.) Needless to say stress was evident.
I am sure that those of you with your kids still at home can definitely relate. I’m also sure that, very often, the non-stop activity makes you want to say, “Stop this train and let me off!” But, in spite of that desire, we keep signing up for more activities for the kids, taking on more responsibility at work, and repeat the same errors that lead to the problem.