American parents generally love the job of raising their kids and most give themselves good grades on the job they’re doing, though 62% say parenting is harder than they expected.

Parents also worry more about their children’s mental health and whether they’ll be bullied or even kidnapped than they worry about drugs and alcohol, gun violence, teen pregnancy and getting in trouble with the police.

That’s according to a new report by Pew Research Center on U.S. parenting practices released Tuesday that examines how adults who have minor children feel about being parents, their aspirations for the kids, the pitfalls they hope those children will avoid and how they see the division of labor at home, among other topics. In the survey of nearly 3,800 adults, Pew also found differences based on gender, race and ethnicity. The poll was conducted between Sept. 20 and Oct. 2, and is nationally representative on gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation and other factors.

“We had a series of questions asking parents to think about how parenting makes them feel,” said Rachel Minkin, a Pew research associate and study co-author with Juliana Horowitz, the associate director of research at the center. “A majority of parents say being a parent is rewarding, enjoyable — at least most of the time. But there are a substantial share saying that it’s tiring and stressful.”

More mothers than fathers say that — often to about the same degree that they say parenting feels rewarding. But only 26% of parents say it’s “a lot” harder than they expected.

Minkin told the Deseret News that the last time Pew asked parents to reflect on the job that is parenting was back in 2015. “A lot has happened in the country and the world since then,” she said. “So this was an opportunity to see how parents are thinking about these changes and check in about their approach to parenting.”

Top worries

So what does parenting mean to those who are raising children?

Black and Hispanic parents are the likeliest to say parenthood is an important part of their identity, compared to white or Asian parents: About 4 in 10 say that, compared to a quarter of whites and Asians. Blacks and Hispanics are also the most likely to say parenting is rewarding and enjoyable — though a big majority of all four racial and ethnic groups agree that’s true.

In the survey, parents were asked to respond to a curated list of worries, noting the degree to which they do or don’t worry about eight different things. Overall, parents worry most about their children developing anxiety or depression, followed by being bullied, being kidnapped, getting physically attacked, using drugs and alcohol, being shot, teen pregnancy and getting into trouble with the police.

Mothers are more likely to worry about most of these issues, compared to fathers.

The report said that lower-income and Hispanic parents worry more about physical safety, teen pregnancy and alcohol and drugs, compared to those who are Black, white or Asian. Black and Hispanic parents are more likely than white or Asian parents to worry about children getting shot or having trouble with police. 

Other surveys have also asked parents to talk about their concerns and values when it comes to raising children. The 2022 American Family Survey presented a different list of issues that families could be concerned about and asked a nationally representative 3,000 adults to pick the three they think most challenge U.S. households. Not surprisingly, the high cost of raising a family in a time period vexed by high inflation ranked at the top of that list. But it wasn’t alone there. Respondents also worried as much about how other people discipline their children.

The American Family Survey, now in its eighth year, is a collaboration of the Deseret News and BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, with the poll conducted by YouGov.

Among their three choices for most-challenging issues, at least a quarter of respondents in the American Family Survey picked work demands (30%) and single-parent homes (26%). Those both came in ahead of crime (21%), the decline of faith (20%), lack of quality family time in a digital age (20%), lack of programs to help struggling families (16%), drugs and alcohol (16%), lack of good jobs (14%), sexual permissiveness (13%) and the changing definition of marriage (13%).

Like father, like son?

The new Pew report asked, among other things, whether today’s parents try to emulate their own parents or raise their children differently. The findings were mixed.

A companion piece by Pew published with the report said that “Among parents who say they’re raising their children similarly to how they were raised, the dominant theme focused on values and beliefs that are important to their family. For those who are taking a different approach to parenting compared with their own upbringing, a focus on love and their relationship with their children was the most common theme.”

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The supplemental report offers snippets of the respondents’ personal experiences. A mother, 44, described growing up without feeling affection or a sense of love from her parents. Her own parenting style is to show her kids she loves them.

Another mother, 37, said she always had a family she could count on and similarly wants her children to know they can come to her, no matter what’s going on in their lives.

Among parents who are trying to raise their children as they were raised, parents emphasized themes like responsibility, manners, obeying rules and helping out around the house. They also talked about setting boundaries.

For those trying a different approach than the way they were raised, discipline was often one of the mentioned differences. “Some mentioned taking a gentler approach to parenting, while others said they are firmer with their children than their own parents were with them,” the secondary report said. “About 1 in 10 of these parents specifically mentioned they would not use corporal punishment when disciplining children.”

Dreaming their future

Parents to some degree emphasize different things. Seventy percent of white parents deem raising children to be honest and ethical adults as extremely important, compared to 62% of Hispanic parents, 60% of black parents and 58% of Asian parents. 

Black parents are the most apt to say they want their kids to be ambitious as adults — 42%, compared to 26% of white parents, 24% of Hispanic parents and 20% of Asian parents.

Fewer than half, overall, say it’s important that their children adopt their religious or political beliefs. The numbers are higher for religion than for politics.

When the survey asked about parents’ aspirations for their children in adulthood, the most-often mentioned hopes are for being financially independent and having careers that will make them happy. At the same time, close to three-fourths of parents deem a college degree “at least somewhat important.” Just over half said that it’s at least somewhat important that their children get married someday. A similar number would like their children to have children.

But when you drill down by demographics, differences can be striking.

Among Asians, 70% say graduating from college is very important — something that’s important to just 57% of Hispanic parents, 51% of Black parents and 29% of white parents.

Other differences feel important now, not for the future.

One of the perpetual talking points between men and women is housework and the division of labor in family life — and the battle is seen in this survey, too. 

Mothers, as other reports have shown, think they do more around the house than their spouse or partner, while fathers see the task division as being more equitable.

Nearly 8 in 10 moms say they do more than the dad in terms of managing children’s activities and schedules. Two-thirds of the women think they do more housework and nearly 60% say they provide more comfort and emotional support to the kids. Among those with young children, 57% of moms says they do the bulk of the diapering and feeding and other basic tasks, Pew found.

The exception is discipline: About half of parents overall say they share disciplining tasks evenly. While fathers are more likely to say they share all the tasks more equally, few fathers say they do more than the mothers when it comes to all those tasks.

Parents not only see some home front issues differently; they may also feel pressure from each other and other relatives and friends.

Both fathers and mothers who had live-in partners or spouses said they sometimes felt that their partner judged them on how they parent. More men said that than women, 56% versus 49%. 

Women felt their parenting skills were being judged by a broader array of people, including not only their partner, Minkin said, but sometimes their parents, in-laws and other parents in the broader community. Four in 10 white parents say they feel like people they know are judging their parenting skills.

Among other highlights:

  • Two-thirds of parents say they’re doing a very good or excellent job and 32% say they do a good job. Just 4% say they are only fair or poor as parents.
  • Upper-income parents and those who are Black or who are white are more likely to say they are very good or excellent at parenting.
  • Asked about being overprotective or too permissive, half of moms and just under 40% of dads describe themselves as overprotective. 
  • On the other end, a quarter of dads say they give their kids too much freedom. 
  • About half of parents overall say that they neither praise nor criticize their kids too much. Most feel they’ve found a good balance.
  • When it comes to education, middle-income families are the least likely to think it’s important their kids earn a college degree at 35%, compared to 51% for upper-income and 46% for lower-income parents.