Are child-rearing norms making both parents unhappy?

Perhaps rather than beings victims of each other, of feminism or patriarchy, the sexes have fallen into two traps together. One is what I’ve called “the one-income trap” — the way that dual-earner couples establish a norm that forces everybody to work harder to keep up, leaving couples that might prefer a single breadwinner stressed or far behind.

The other trap is one of rising child-watching expectations, reflected in the fact that the overall parental time spent on child care has nearly doubled since the 1960s. Some of this doubling reflects a laudable desire to be more involved than the distant paters of the past. But it also reflects anxieties specific to our era — the fear of letting kids play together out of sight, the fear of giving them unsupervised hours, the fear that some well-meaning busybody will report you to child services, all of which pile burdens on parents that would have been foreign in the past.

This anxiety is one spoke in the cycle driving American fertility downward: Watching your kids all day makes parenting harder, which makes people have fewer kids, which means fewer siblings and neighbors to play with, which makes kids more dependent on parents for amusement, which makes parenting harder, and so on …