Are You Spending Enough Time With Your Kids? (Funny I Should Ask)

Hi Readers! Here’s a guest post from Laura Vanderkam, a journalist who blogs at my168hours.com, writes for The Wall Street Journal (among other fancy places), and just came out with the intriguing book: “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.” Here she ponders:

Are Parents Spending Enough Time with Their Kids These Days?

by Laura Vanderkam

This loaded question usually starts a discussion of some perceived social ill: killer hours, working moms, maybe the frenetic pace of modern life. Certainly, many people worry that society is coming up short on this front. As Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute recently told The New York Times, “I’ve never found a group of parents who believe they are spending enough time with their kids.”

Of course, to ask whether parents spend enough time with their kids implies that there is a correct number of hours one should devote to this job. And since we usually throw in “these days,” it implies comparisons to some other time when, perhaps, parents approached the optimal amount.

Going down this line of reasoning, however, we make some interesting discoveries.

First, when do people think this golden era occurred? Maybe you’re picturing a 1950s/early 1960s Ozzie and Harriet-style home, a simpler time of one-income families when work didn’t follow us out of the office.

But social scientists have been tracking how Americans spend their time for decades, and it turns out that parents are spending a lot more time interacting with their kids now than they did in, say, 1965. In 1965, according to data from the 1965-66 Americans’ Use of Time Study, mothers spent 10 hours weekly on childcare as a primary activity. Fathers spent 3 hours.

Meantime, according to a recent analysis by economists Garey and Valerie Ramey: College-educated moms now spend 21.2 hours on such things (15.9 for women with less education). Betsey Stevenson and Dan Sacks at the University of Pennsylvania calculated that college-educated dads are now up to 9.6 hours per week.

This is interesting, because far more women work outside the home now than did in 1965. And yet weeks still contain the exact same 168 hours that they always have. So what happened?

Two things. First, women used to spend a lot more time doing housework. In 1965, married moms did 34.5 hours a week. All that cooking and cleaning didn’t have a lot of surplus time for interacting with children. While they were busy ironing blankets and dusting ceilings and who knows what else, many moms sent kids out to wander their neighborhoods all day. There are upsides and downsides to this, and Lenore’s blog here focuses on the upsides, but the point is, mid-century women often perceived their job as house care – not childcare.

Which brings us to the second point: The culture of parenthood has changed. Not long ago, my parents gave me some books they’d saved from my childhood. I marveled that I hadn’t destroyed them, because until my son turned two, his books didn’t last 30 days, let alone 30 years.

My parents’ secret?

They didn’t read to me until I was old enough not to destroy books! Now, of course, not reading to your baby is considered practically child abuse.

Between the decline of housework and the rise of intense parenting, the interactive hours have crept up, pretty much across the board. Even if you’re working full-time, you’re probably spending more time interacting with your kids than your grandmother did.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s enough time. Many of us could turn off the TV and do more. But if we fret that modern parents aren’t spending enough time with their kids, it’s important to note that our forbears were, by this standard, hideous. And most of us don’t think they were. So maybe we’re doing okay too. – L.V.

73 Responses

  1. Modern parents spend *too much* time with their offspring. Children don’t need to play with their parents, they need to play with *other children*. Children don’t need their parents to be ‘playmates’, they need their parents to be leaders, the (kind and loving) People In Charge, and when was the last time you spent ‘quality time’ with *your* CEO?

    Really people, it’s not rocket science. If food is good and witholding food from your child is bad, is overfeeding them and feeding them sugar and fat by the pound good for children? No. Of course not. If adult attention is good for a child and witholding aadult attention is bad, is it good to have a child spend all his time under adult attention (if not in school then at home) good for a child? No. Of course not.

    Why is this a difficult concept?

  2. We are currently living in Germany temporarily and my children, aged 3 and 5, are at home with me. We are finding it very hard to meet other families and children because everyone seems to go to day care here. That means that there are no activities my children can participate in with other children before 4:00pm.

    So from the time they wake up in the morning until around 4:00pm when other kids pour into the playgrounds, all they have is me and each other. It is exhausting for me. It is boring for them. We love each other, enjoy each other’s company, have a strong attachment and all that, but OH MY HOW I WISH MY KIDS HAD PEOPLE TO PLAY WITH!

  3. I think it’s important to distinguish between spending time focused solely on your kids and spending time doing the things you need to get done with the kids with you.

    Those mothers and fathers in in 1965 spent more than 10 and 3 hours a week with their kids – they just didn’t spend that time playing with them,taking them to baby Mozart classes, or watching every little league match, etc. They took the kids shopping, had them help in the kitchen, mowing the lawn or cleaning the car.

    Longer ago (and even today in family businesses) kids spent time with their parents while they worked. The kids helped, developed skills and began to build an idea of adult tasks and responsibilities.

    Not that I think we should all have our children shadowing us whatever we do 24/7. But I think there is a downside to having childhood so apart from the adult world that kids’ first exposure to those kinds of expectations and responsibilities can be after they leave school. Household chores are a good start but I think it would be good to see children be a more common part of the working world – not just a (often sanitized) take your child to work day experience.

  4. helenquine:

    I completely agree. Children can learn by being alongside their parents and can also help out. My children don’t just watch me do the laundry, they also help hang clothes, fold clothes, etc. They don’t just sit in the grocery cart while I shop, we discuss what we are buying and why, so that they can make educated financial and nutritional decisions on their own.

  5. Amongst hunter-gatherers (who are our real cultural and genetic forbaers!) there is almost no interaction between kids and parents from the moment they can walk. And these kids grow up to be skilled, verbally strong and self-confident. Kids learn by themselves and with other kids, not parents. For an excellent blog on play, trustful parenting and self-directed learning see: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn

    Parents are primarly role-models. I’m not against playing our reading with your kids. But I would emphasize that fishing our building one hour with your kid beats playing Wii four hours handsdown because of the difference in interaction. They don’t want you to be high and mighty, but they need parents they can look up to as more skilled, more experienced. And since a lot of parents are working outdoors kids don’t have clue what their parents are capable of. Be kind and gentile, but don’t hesitate showing of your skills now and then.

  6. helenquine is exactly right. Now we call it homeschooling.

    I work full time though I’ll admit part of it is from home and my husband’s job is similar. A little over 2 years ago we brought our kids home to school ourselves. They spend time learning how to do all the little things we do to maintain a home as well as traditional studies AND independence in riding bikes up to the library or grocery store or playing in the neighborhood with friends. We spend more time with them for sure now that they aren’t locked in a brick building for 6 hours every day but it isn’t all play and fun either. They are learning skills that I missed out on learning in those ideal early 60’s – I had no idea how to do a load of laundry or cook much more than brownies when I got to college!

  7. What helenquine said, in spades. Kids these days need both less AND more of their parents: less time being hovered over and driven from one activity to another, and more time interacting naturally together in normal life. That’s what *I* remember from 1965.

    My free-range grandkids are blessed with parents who work primarily from and at home. Although the parents are definitely the parents and the kids the kids, their side-by-side closeness has led to some of the most competent youngsters I know: effective helpers at a young age with everything from housework and cooking to plumbing and electrical work, and also able to entertain themselves well without parental attention. And did I mention they’re adorable? 🙂

  8. Michelle – I really don’t want anyone to think my post is encouraging home schooling. That’s not what I’m advocating.

  9. Good article. Reminds of a great book I read in grad school, called The Way We Never Were. Family dynamics are always changing based on society and the needs of the family, there was never a time when family life was perfect and ideal. People pine for the good old days when things were “simple”, well maybe things seemed “simple” because you were 5 years old.

  10. helenquine – no, I didn’t really think you were advocating homeschooling. But what you wrote fits quite well into what us homeschoolers do. This isn’t to say others can’t as well nor is homeschooling for everyone by a long shot! Its just what has worked for us.

  11. The primary duty of a parent is to transfer values, life-skills, knowledge, and responsibility to the next generation. Having a fun time with children is part of that process. However, ensuring your kids are enjoying a non-stop good time is NOT the proper role of a parent. Teaching your kids how to entertain themselves IS the proper role of a parent. I see the immaturity of many of the current generation of youth (even college graduates) manifest in their desire to lounge around, with little motivation to start a career, and with almost no desire to commit to a marriage and start their own families and have to wonder if today’s parents are too protective and too accommodating. There is value to saying: once you’re 22 years old, you are on your own – no handouts, no freebies – you want to go to grad school – great!, but get a job to support yourself.

  12. Pick up the book “The Way We Never Were” by Stephanie Coontz. It will show you a few myths about the “good old days” that may surprise you!!

    http://www.amazon.com/Way-We-Never-Were-Nostalgia/dp/0465090974

  13. I see HappyNat already mentioned the book! It is very interesting…

  14. Yes, helenquine nailed it. That’s the first thing I thought of when I read the article. What IS childcare “as a primary activity” once kids are potty-trained and can dress and feed themselves? The time you need to spend with your kids by and large should be doing things with them or with them around, not for or to them.

    Sure, it’s good to spend some time doing fun activities together, like playing games, outings, etc. But where children really benefit is just from being around their parents, not from being entertained or waited on by them. If you don’t have time or other ability to spend “on” your kids, they’ll still do great of you spend enough time “with” them.

    @Bill — there’s a reason that hunter-gatherers were our cultural “forebears,” which implies we’ve gone beyond. They didn’t build many universities and hospitals, did they? And the people who did, received socialization, moral training, and education from their parents (or other adults delegated to the task.)

  15. The problem is, when you have parents spending more time with their kids, it seems to mean that kids spend much less time with each other. That’s where they learn to interact with peers, resolve disputes, cooperate on joint play, imagine and explore. We’re cutting kids off from their peers.

  16. Interesting article, but there is a line between spending too much time with your kids, and letting them free play with other kids. Makes me think of my neighborhood. The majority of kids ages 18 months (my son) through 13 are outside all the time when it’s nice. Those of us with younger kids sit in the driveway of wherever the kids are playing and chat with the neighbors. My son LOVES playing with the older kids – he started playing with the 2 4 year olds down the street, and they enjoy showing him their toys too. All those kids in our neighborhood are completely well adjusted, socialized, and happy.

    Conversely, there’s 1 kid who is 3 down the street. I’ve never seen a kid so coddled, spoiled, “held back from the world”. She’s never outside playing, her parents hold her all the time and never let her run around. The few times I’ve interacted with her she has no personality, doesn’t ever seem happy, and definitely has no idea how to play with other kids.

    I love my son, and love spending time with him, but it seems right now he’s benefitting more from playing with other children rather than playing with us all of the time.

  17. there’s a reason that hunter-gatherers were our cultural “forebears,” which implies we’ve gone beyond.

    Funnily enough, hunter-gatherers, as a rule, do less work for more food than farmers, herders, or people in industrialized nations.

    They’re also less prone to famine than farmers or herders, which makes sense because unlike farmers, they’re not tied down to the land. If the food fails, they can move on earlier than they’d planned. Farmers are kinda stuck, and herders have to go at the speed of ambling cow and worry about keeping the animals fed and watered.

    The real advantage of “moving on”, as I understand it, is that you can support a larger population than hunter gatherers, which allows you to have people who do very little – hence all the universities you mention (and also complex priesthoods, bureaucracies, monarchies….)

  18. Excellent article. Our kids are not quite three, and I’m already concerned that they don’t spend enough time playing independently. I think it’s tremendously important to foster an enjoyment of quiet time playing alone with toys or nature. But with a host of weekly activities (zoo, science centre, gyms) and with two sets of grandparents looking after them a couple days a week, the kids are spoiled with activities and attention.

    I’ve actually told my parents and in-laws that we just want to raise the kids the way we were raised, with only a moderate amount of child-centered play and special activities. But it’s tough to get that message through these days, even with our parents who raised kids before hyperparenting became the norm.

  19. Ann – I get the impression cutting off kids from their peers is one of the goals of modern parenting. Or at least cutting them off from unsupervised play with other kids. We’ve lost the notion that children can and should learn from one another. Many parents don’t seem to trust other people’s kids, and fear some sort of contamination of bad behaviour. So kids are shuttled around from school, to supervised activities, to home; all environments where there’s always an adult around to monitor and manage the kids.

  20. As it happens, this was posted on the BBC website today: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8703010.stm Apparently the time that parents spend with kids is ‘down to’; 49 minutes a day. That’s interesting, as on a BBC programme not long ago I heard that actually it was far less than that in the 1970s.

    But there is the question, as raised here, about what counts as time with your kids, and also that kids need time with other kids, not to mention time alone!

  21. Ilja, that just can’t be true. Most “traditional societies” breastfeed well past walking age. Modern US society is bizarre in how little we breastfeed.

    I’d really like to see how these surveys defined “time with your kids.” For instance, right now, my 11 month old is about 10 feet away from me playing with some toys. Am I spending time with her, or not?

    Now, this is purely anecdote, but I have several female friends who are pregnant with their first or considering starting a family in the next few years, who expect to spend almost no time with their newborns. One woman, who wants to adopt, plans to go back to work the next day, one doesn’t expect to take more than 2 weeks off, and the third will be back to work by 4 weeks. They’re all professionals with ample paid maternity leave, but for some reason they believe their jobs couldn’t survive without them for more than x number of days, and so expect to send their newborns to daycare as soon as possible. And as much as I believe in benign neglect for older children, newborns need to be home with their parents for at least the first 6 weeks, and it’s a shame if they can’t. I wonder how much this is a trend, or just some bizarre thing amongst my friends.

  22. […] a few blogs this morning and one of my favorites had an interesting post.  It can be found here:  Free Range Kids.  This particular post is about spending (or over spending) time with your kids.  I thought it […]

  23. Claudia – The survey that comes from appears to have been commissioned by the NSPCC from Opinion Matters, a market research firm who describe themselves: “make it our priority to aid our clients to generate headlines and create coverage that highlights and reinforces their branding and key messages”. So I wouldn’t put much store in the results.

  24. Remember play pens? I was born in 1967 and that’s where I was plopped for much of the day. So yes, my mother was “there” (or at least in the house…) but the actual interaction was pretty minimal. My mom never sat and played with me, she never watched TV with me, she never…. She felt that if I was alive at the end of the day, her job was successfully completed.

    Funny enough I don’t remember feeling neglected in any way and consider my childhood to have been magical.

  25. I don’t know – first, I saw two sites today talking about this and both gave significantly different numbers for how much time today’s parents spend with their kids. But besides that, I think this is too subjective a topic. Does time spent with my kid include the time we spend in the morning rush? Only a few minutes of it is face-to-face “enrichment” stuff, but it’s all important on several levels. Does it include the time my kids spend watching me as I do grown-up chores while they choreograph the dance of the moment? How about the time they spend climbing at the park with me remaining at a distance, checking in from time to time, but not pursuing other responsibilities? Does listening to me talk on the phone count? How about snuggling in my bed in the a.m. while I am not really awake yet? Different people will have different opinions re the “quality” of each of those. So I feel that this conversation, held in any forum, is a doomed one.

    I feel in my gut that my kids and I have great times together, but I also feel there are some more things I’d like to do with them. They will certainly be OK either way, but since they grow up so fast, I do try to work a little more in sometimes. However, I do believe it’s also a priority to give them ample time to run their own show and solve their own problems. Since they are in daycare full time, I sometimes wonder if the balance is right. But I don’t lose sleep over it.

    In short, I really think this is too personal of a matter to justify a national debate (or national “policy,” whatever that may be).

  26. This is a very interesting article, and I agree with it… To a point.
    I’m hearing a lot of vindication about the subject matter as pertaining to babies and toddlers. I would venture to say after raising my child through the “attachment” parenting belief that as an infant a child should be attended to and played with, watched and protected (WITHIN REASON) and not “plopped” in a playpen.
    However, I totally agree that modern mothers of children say… 3 and up… are absolutely doting on their kids in an unreasonable fashion. Case in point: at the playground, I sit on the bench and watch my three year old play. This is not a new practice of mine, to stand back and allow her to do her own thing. It has been subject to so much scrutiny from other parents and grandparents who follow three inches behind their young family members and scoff when my daughter takes a tumble and skins her knee or something.
    My daughter is constantly pining for attention, and as someone who works at home- I am here but not ALWAYS available to play with her. She’s an only child and I do understand that solitude can be frustrating for someone who loves to engage in imaginary play. However, she’s in preschool and I know that my attention to housework and bigger picture items will be appreciated and noted in the long run.
    The thing is too, there needs to be a balance. The 50’s women took pride in their HOMES. Children were trained to shutup when adults were around and figure their own stuff out. I, personally, want to have a relationship with my child that goes beyond just that- not to the point where I am more friend than parent, but so that she feels like she comes from a place where she will be supported regardless of the choices that she makes. It’s something that takes a lot of thought, layers, re-evaluation and there are often sticks thrown in the spokes of most parents.. But I always think of it this way:
    If you’re thinking AT ALL about the BEST way to be a parent, you are miles ahead of a lot of other parents.
    I’m glad I found this blog (via twitter).

  27. Regarding the need to be with your kid when she is a baby – I relate to the ideal, but how much of that is really what we want to believe versus what is true? As an adoptive mom, I took custody of my kids when they were 9mo and 12mo. As much as I would have liked to be there when they were younger, the reality is that they did not need “me.” They did need a healthy balance of interaction AND alone time, which they did receive, thank goodness. The key is the ability to attach, and frankly, that doesn’t take all that much time and effort for a normal, non-disrupted infant. It’s instinctive. Consistency (in the “no surprises” sense) is more important than quantity. In my humble opinion.

  28. “Children don’t need their parents to be ‘playmates’, they need their parents to be leaders, the (kind and loving) People In Charge, and when was the last time you spent ‘quality time’ with *your* CEO?”

    The parent child relationship is completely different from the CEO/employee relationship. It involves love, self-identity, emotional well being and security – it is far more than person in charge and employee. I remember wishing my parents spent more time with me than they did, and sometimes feeling unloved when they refused. I’m well aware of my children begging me to spend more “quality” time with them than I wish to or sometimes can.

    Somewhere there’s a happy medium between a child’s unrealistic demands on his parents attention and the average parent’s wish to not have to play another game of Candy Land – ever.

    We all have to find that happy medium for our own families. Some children may need more attention, some less. Some parents may be more qucikly drianed by child play, some less. But we don’t need to treat our children like firm employees.

    As they get older, this gets easier, because they can go out the door on their own and walk to friend’s houses and such, and there are fewer demands. But I do believe in “family” time as well.

  29. […] to Lenore Skenazy over at the Free Range Kids blog for running a guest post called “Are You Spending Enough Time With Your Kids?” 27 comments already and the day is […]

  30. Uly — hence modern medicine, health, lifespan, leisure, stable family relationships, pretty much all the good things we take for granted. I’m not saying everything technology has brought is good, but that there is not a person reading this thread who could really live with the implications of the idea that living the way the h-g’s did is the way we ought to go. And if that isn’t true as a general statement, it doesn’t work as an argument, “well, the hg’s did it this way so that means it would work better for us, too.” It doesn’t mean everything they did was undesirable, it just means that it’s not a self-evident point that their lifestyles are the ones to emulate.

  31. Yes, there’s certainly a medium between neglect and smothering. (Isn’t that what this whole site is about?) But I don’t think those of us who are saying that it’s important to spend time “around” your kids even when you can’t spend time “on” them mean that they get no free time to themselves or with other kids. What I mean is that being around your kids consistently some hours of the day is better than them going from school to afterschool program to ballet to soccer practice to homework time to bed. Or for them to spend nearly all of their waking hours in any setting away from their parents, day after day. For one reason or another, this kind of arrangement might be necessary in some families, but it isn’t as good for them as regular, consistent interaction. And sending them off to lessons and activities all day long isn’t as good as just being with them, when the choice is there. That’s not to say that lessons and activities are bad, but that if life doesn’t include time for parents “just to be around” their kids, something is likely off-kilter.

  32. Steph – Thanks, I wasn’t planning to comment until I read yours.

    When you were a baby, you were given freedom to move in a safe space and create play for yourself. You weren’t entertained, taught to read, or carried around all day and placated with a breast, whether or not you were actually hungry (which is the ultimate way to hover). You didn’t feel neglected because that isn’t neglect. Your mom allowed you to be an initator, explorer and self-learner.

    Infants like you, who are trusted to play alone — to “have a life” — gain a strong sense of self. These children are a pleasure for parents (or anyone) to spend time with at any age, because they know how to “be” with another without being entertained. Much better for parent and child to truly enjoy the moments they connect during the day, than to spend hours dutifully accomodating each other’s busyness and boredom.

  33. “If you’re thinking AT ALL about the BEST way to be a parent, you are miles ahead of a lot of other parents.”

    I disagree 100% with this statement. I believe that the western world spends way too much time thinking about the BEST way to be a parent. That is what leads to stress over being perfect, which leads to overparenting, which leads to the media confirming that anything less than perfection is criminal (if we weren’t buying, they wouldn’t be selling), which leads to helicopter parenting which leads to burnt out parents, dysfunctional kids and my real worry that the next generation will be completely unable to be innovative, self-supporting, responsible adults.

    I think that we need to spend much less time thinking about how to be the BEST parent and more time following our gut and being happy being a good parent.

  34. Marion writes: “Modern parents spend *too much* time with their offspring. Children don’t need to play with their parents, they need to play with *other children*. ”

    Marion, I couldn’t agree with you more. But I wound up spending loads of time with my one and only. And my heart broke. Not because I didn’t want to be with her. I did. Still do.

    My heart ached because I wanted her to play with other children. And believe me, I tried to find them. Especially as an only child, I wished for her starting at a very young age that she could just walk out the apartment building door and have children to play with.

    This was often not the case. And believe me, I tried. I called to set up those dreaded playdates. I say dreaded because daughter was in a private school and I had to call the other moms to set up those playdates. I dreaded the word. And although I (and then she) managed to find kids to play with over the years, it was not enough and it always seemed so much work.

    The schoolchildren were so overscheduled, it was hard to find time to break in. One afternoon, in third grade, as the kids were climbing into their carpools, I blithely proposed to a group of moms that we take our kids to a park for a few hours. They all looked at me as if I was crazy. It was as if they were holding an imaginary stopwatch, shouting GO!!!!!! From the moment of school release to bed, these kids’ schedules were packed. Play? Frivolous and time wasting.

    My daughter is about to graduate high school. Some of those moms, confronting problems, confide in me now that they wish they’d heeded my call to play. I feel as if my daughter was robbed of a real childhood. I have my regrets but at least I can say, in this endeavor, I did everything I could to make sure she didn’t suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder.” But so many of those walks and hikes were with her parents because we just couldn’t get any other kids to break away long enough to join us.

    We finally got one good friend to come along for a day hike. She loved it. But when my daughter climbed a tree, the other girl held back. “I’m not allowed to,” she wistfully told us. “It could end my gymnastics career.” She was seven.

  35. I was born in ’65. My mother did housework all day while I stayed in the playpen for hours (this is only partly my own recollection; she freely admits that this was our schedule). I played with my brothers once they came along, but I can’t remember a single game, art project, or activity that my mom participated in, other than some very nice memories of cooking together.

    I’m frustrated by hovering parents, too, and I’ve been criticized for giving my kids some free rein. I have three kids, all close together, and they spend most afternoons outside or building forts, etc., together. I’m pretty moderate in my involvement–e.g., I read to them often, but I rarely enter their worlds of imaginative play.

    That said, I’d never advocate going back to the old days. My mother’s lack of interaction did affect our relationship. Growing up, I never confided in her–it would not even have occurred to me–and that led to some really bad decisions in my teen years. Now, having kids of my own, I wonder how she could have been so detached all day long from her own children. It was the times, though, and I know she was raised similarly.

  36. 34.5 hrs/wk of HOUSEWORK? That’s horrifying. And I’m a cloth-diapering, laundry-hanging, veggie-gardening, whole-meal cooking supermom! 😉

  37. The modern lifespan took thousands and tens of thousands of years to develop. It’s not a natural consequence of agriculture or we would’ve had it ages ago. Farmers a hundred years ago certainly didn’t live any better than hunter gatherers… and since farming has changed the world so significantly, we don’t actually *know* what could’ve been done if it hadn’t been invented. We have no clue whatsoever. That’s the realm of speculative fiction.

    Hunter gatherers spend more of their life in leisure time than we do if they only spend 20 hours a week working (this includes housework and travel time, you know), and don’t seem to have any less stable families than we do, so I don’t see why you brought those two up at all.

  38. I’m looking forward to spending less time with my toddler. She’s nearly 16 months and getting more and more independent… except when she has a clingy day, as they all do. She already looks wistfully at other little kids and can’t quite figure out how to get them to play as her older brother and sister do.

    It amazes me how hard it is to get free play time for my kids with other kids. They go around asking friends every day, and often none of them are available. If they’re going to play out front, it’s always only with direct parental supervision.

  39. The article has some interesting parts, but I feel like it is trying to diminish the role of a “housewife” or “stay-at-home mom” and appease the guilt of working moms. I don’t like that. I feel very strongly that the best situation for young children is at home with their moms. I OF COURSE know this is not always possible, but it could be possible for most families if they really had the desire.

    Maybe the housewives of earlier days spent more time cooking and cleaning than focusing just on their children, but I’m sure those children enjoyed homes a lot cleaner than mine (my mom’s certainly was) and homemade meals all the time. Also, just because you’re busy cooking and cleaning, doesn’t mean you’re not singing, soothing, teaching, and watching over your kids at the same time. Not to mention your kids get to be in their own home with their own stuff and their family that loves them more than anyone else can. You can’t get any better than that.

    In my opinion, the need for a free-range parenting movement has arisen at least in part because of the increase in mothers working, day cares, putting off having children until later years, and families having fewer and fewer children. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities and choices women have now compared to past eras, but there is a time and season for everything. Little ones need their mothers! There is no more important job.

    OK, I’m getting off my soap box. The kiddos (and the dirty dishes) need me.

  40. Very interesting comments here — parents do spend more time, but it seems that this so-called ‘quality time’ is spent shuttling kids from school to activities to playdates. How many people actually sit down to dinner as a family — or is that another myth of the past? I am happy that I don’t overschedule my child (I feel that one sport per season, one Girl Scout meeting a month, and the occasional library storytimes are sufficient activity for a 6 y.o.)

    What really gets to me — with this whole overscheduling thing — is that kids are not free to play at random. It’s not just working parents whose kids go to aftercare, but the number of families I know whose kids are always in some activity or another. Having an only also makes this a bit challenging, esp. for a child like mine who is gregarious and wants to play with other kids. I enjoy spending time with my daughter, but don’t feel I have to be her main playmate.

    Thankfully, my daughter will be going to day camp for most of the summer (I go to school fulltime) and we have the town pool (where I’m sure DD will see a lot of her classmates hanging out) and summer reading club as our only activities.

    As for parental relations in the past — my parents were very affectionate and caring, but we knew our place (so to speak). And yes, I believe that parenting in the past involved a lot of moms who weren’t so ‘hands on’ (watch “Mad Men” for an example of parents of that sort!) Not saying I want to go back to “Children should be seen and not heard,” but kids today seem to run the show.

  41. Also forgot to mention that assisting with chores isn’t always standard in many households today. More families that I know hire cleaning people, lawn care service, or do so little cooking, it’s no wonder that kids don’t partake in household chores! I’ve been working with DD on this as well — she is expected to pick up after herself, assist with feeding our cats, put away her clean laundry, make her bed daily — and this list will expand as she gets older. (I had to do it too, so I don’t feel I’m that out of line. Just wish I had more time/energy to keep my house neater…)

  42. “Hunter gatherers spend more of their life in leisure time than we do if they only spend 20 hours a week working (this includes housework and travel time, you know), and don’t seem to have any less stable families than we do, so I don’t see why you brought those two up at all.”

    Not leisure time, leisure. How many hunter-gatherers got to go to the movies, read books, travel, etc. And if Bill’s account is to be believed, then yes, parents who ignore their kids after weaning create a “less stable” family than we have now.

    As I said above, I’m not claiming that “not being hunter gatherers” is responsible for all the good, and only the good, in our lives. I’m just saying that comparing our lives to theirs, realistically, absolutely none of us would opt for theirs rather than ours. We might opt for the benefits, but that’s not how things work. And while it’s true that the development of agriculture didn’t lead to all the benefits we have, reverting to a primitive lifestyle would lead to losing them all.

    I’m just saying that “look at how the hunter gatherers did things” isn’t a reasonable starting premise unless we already agree that living like a hunter gatherer is, overall, desirable. If you want to argue that there are benefits to raising your kids like wolves, you have to argue it on the merits, not on the desirability of a lifestyle that is, taken as a whole, not desired by any of us.

  43. “benefits we have” referring to benefits relative to hunter gatherers. I agree that the simpler, less taxing lifestyle of h-gs is also a benefit, but I’m talking about the ones we DO have they they did not. We’d lose all those if we reverted to their lifestyle — there’s no way that universally adopting that lifestyle supports dentistry, for example.

  44. […] Are You Spending Enough Time With Your Kids? (Funny I Should Ask) Hi Readers! Here’s a guest post from Laura Vanderkam, a journalist who blogs at my168hours.com, writes for The […] […]

  45. Pentamom, this is the second time instead of just saying that you’re not sure it’s great that you’ve outright insulted a type of life that has persisted for the whole of human history. Why would you compare any cultures to wolves?

  46. How is it insulting to make an analogy, if the analogy is accurately descriptive? If I say a child is cute as a button, am I suggesting that she’s plastic, inanimate, and only useful for holding clothing together?

    I am not saying that hunter-gatherers were like wolves, I am saying that raising your kids the way raise wolves raise their pup is….raising your kids like wolves. And I’m not the one claiming that ANY group of human beings ever actually neglected their kids after the first few years, I’m just giving a label to Bill’s description. Personally, I find the claim suspect. But assuming it’s true, I see no reason why human precedent is an argument in favor of ANYTHING, especially when the precedent is rooted lifestyle we’d all flee from at the first chance (not wanting to freeze and starve and die of strep go without our computers and what-all.) That’s really all I’m saying.

  47. Augh, I don’t know why I have this tendency to completely leave out words when I’m typing. Sorry, I hope you can make sense of that.

  48. Oh, Uly, chill out.😉 She’s just trying to clarify her previous post.

    I’m also curious about what they consider “time with your kids.” I’m a stay-at-home mom, so theoretically I could say I spend 100% of my daughter’s awake time with her. But the truth is right now I’m on the computer in one room and she’s watching “Babe” in the other. Ever since she was an infant, we’d give her “Private Imagination Time.” She HATED it if we spent too much time with her. A few times a day, she just wanted to lay on the floor in the living room while I washed dishes or read a book or whatever.

    I also agree with the statements that you need to be showing your kids how to be an adult. At 1.5 my daughter helps me unload the dishwasher. She helped me in the garden today. (Helped as in tried to copy whatever I was doing.) She brings me her dishes after she eats and watches me put them in the dishwasher. She is practicing folding dish towels. She knows how to “Put it away” or “Put it in the garbage.” I’m not bragging (OK, maybe a little.😉 ) but my point is if you expect your kids to act responsibly from an early age and you give them the opportunity to help, they’ll usually do it. If you’re always cleaning up their messes and giving into their tantrums, then you’ll just have a messy tantrum-thrower on your hands.

    And of course, this whole paragraph isn’t even related to the article.

    On the other hand, as far as spending time dedicated to interacting with my daughter, I’d say my husband and I spend a TON of time doing that. He works nights from home, so from the time he wakes up at 3 to when his shift starts at 6, he’s playing with our daughter or hanging out with both of us. And he’s constantly complaining that he doesn’t get MORE time with her. Today we spent 4 hours at the park and aviary. Then about 2 more hours in the yard playing and gardening. If you add the time we were driving places, that’s almost 8 hours today alone.

    Some of my favorite memories growing up are wrestling with my dad, or playing with him in the yard. I’d stay up WAY too late as a teenager, so I could talk to my parents. When I got home from a date, they wanted to hear all about it. I love how close we are now, and I hope I can have that kind of a relationship with my kids. But I also hope I can find more kids in the neighborhood for my daughter to play with so I can get a break sometimes.

  49. @janetlansbury ~ You’re ignorant beyond belief about breastfeeding. Stick with things you actually know something about, mmmmkay? You sound idiotic.

    I’ll never regret all the time I spent with my older kids when they were tiny and I don’t regret the time I’m spending with my youngest now. After the age of 6, most kids go to school for 7 hours a day.

    I don’t personally believe in the concept of “quality” time. I think it was invented to appease people who want an excuse not to spend time with their kids.

  50. Congratulations on having one of the most sophisticated blogs Ive come across in some time! Its just incredible how much you can take away from something simply because of how visually beautiful it is. This is definitely a must-see blog!

    Thanks for writing!

    I am definately going to come around very often.

  51. These statistics make me think of those frequent episodes of The Waltons or The Brady Bunch– however stylized those shows are, the kids had LOTS of free time to go wandering around without adult supervision. Especially so on the Waltons– those kids ran all over that mountain while their parents were working!

  52. There are way too many stay at home moms in this forum. How do you teach your daughters financial responsibility beyond relying on your husbands? It is so important to stay on track with retirement and health care plans, I am always wondering how some mothers manage to ignore the future that significantly and leave out all the feelings of accomplishement that being in a job provides?

  53. Lara, we can teach our children financial responsibility by showing them how to live within their means, even if that’s only one income for the family. Are you forgetting about the feelings of accomplishment from teaching your kids how to treat others kindly, or how to be responsible?

    It’s just as ridiculous for me to insinuate that because you work, you don’t teach your kid morals and values, as it is for you to insinuate that by staying home my daughter won’t know how to be financially responsible. People have different goals. My goal is to stay home with my kids and once they’re all in school, I’ll go to school as well. But until that time, why do you feel the need to judge the choice that I’ve made with my husband, and which works for my family? Why should I stick my daughter in day care when I can teach her so much better? Staying home isn’t for everyone, but neither is sending your kid to daycare.

  54. Also, why do we need 2 incomes to have a retirement plan?

  55. bequirox – I suspect Lara’s post was a defense against Natalie’s – which was, I thought, a small minded and nasty dig at people not-like-her.

    It’s a shame when a comment like Natalie’s leads others to attack as a form of defense. Maybe if one of us stay-at-home-moms had stuck up for the working mothers before one of them felt the need to retaliate we could avoid this sort of destructive bickering.

  56. Excellent question, Lara; I can only begin to answer with some personal experience. First, however: am I the only one who finds the term “stay at home mom” insulting, as if we were cloistered away from the real world? I prefer the old-fashioned “homemaker,” because that is, after all, what it’s all about.

    My daughters are off the top of the charts when it comes to financial responsibility, both being the primary money managers for their families, while their husbands are the primary wage-earners. I’ll admit they got their love of accounting from their father, not me, but we both taught them frugality, financial responsibility, generosity, and how to live well on one income.

    When I gave up my high-paying, satisfying job in medical research to take on homemaking as my full-time job, I in no way left behind the feeling of accomplishment. We did miss the paycheck, but found the rewards well worth the price.

    Neither are we ashamed to be financially dependent on our husbands, any more than they are ashamed to be dependent in many ways on us.

    But isn’t that what makes community great? We are not all alike and neither are our families and yet we are all (okay, at least 99% of us) loving parents who are trying our best for our kids, and we each have something of value to share. The trouble comes when some people decide their way is the only way, and try to give it the force of law — e.g. closing off the world to free-range kids. (I visited a science center recently that allowed no children under the age of 18 unless accompanied by an adult!

  57. Lara, I”m trying to decide how I should feel about your comment. I’ve been a working mom, and I understand that point of view. Kids can turn out perfectly fine and extremely productive when both parents are working

    However, kids who have a stay-at-home mom (or dad, for that matter) aren’t at any kind of educational disadvantage. We can teach our kid financial responsibility and how to save just as easily off of one income as we can from 2. Part of teaching them financial responsibility is to teach them the difference between making a good investment and flushing money down the toilet.

    My husband and I sat down to evaluate our finances and decide if it was worth it for me to keep working. And you know what? We had our daughter right there with us while we did it. We found that after daycare, the cost of gas, and missed wages for sick kids and school programs, I was taking home $200 a month.

    Personally, we felt we would rather lose that $200 and raise our kids the way WE wanted to than pay someone else to do it so that we could have two extra dates every month.

    We teach our kids about financial priorities. Paying the utilities will always come before trips to the aquarium. They sit and help me search ads for deals so that we can save the money we would need to do fun activities.

    We don’t need extra income and extra bank accounts to teach them the financial basics of life.

    I realize that this isn’t what’s best for everyone. That’s one of the perks of being a parent… we’re allowed to do what we want. But whether I agree with it or not, I would NEVER go around making general assumptions about a group of women who are just trying to do what’s best for their own family.

  58. I agree to free choices. I am just reading through all the comments and do not like the attitude some of the homemakers present . As well as you do not like mine. For kids it might be great to have parents with all day availability….

    I am now not talking about kids, but women:
    I honestly think that most woman would benefit more from being independent and working rather than staying at home.

    Maybe I am odd: But I just do not understand why women would give up their lives to serve a family. I tried for a year, got so depressed that I needed therapy, I was so unhappy as a homemaker and stay at home mom that I nearly ruined my family. Just following an odd ideal that was not for me.

    I had to learn slowly that I am the working type.
    But still to this day I do not understand women that stay home. It is beyond me. And it makes me really sad to read some comments from homemakers that make it sound like they can offer there children better education or that these women DO NOT NEED to work… I just do not get it. It is beyond me. How do you keep your minds busy…? How do you develop yourself professionally and personally?

  59. Another great question, Lara, though one hard for me to answer, as I can no more fathom being bored as a homemaker than you can understand not needing employment to keep our minds busy. As I said, I once had a high-tech job, but the challenge of motherhood was orders of magnitude more stimulating than that (and lots more fun). I used my mind all the time and even more so when we were homeschooling, from which I learned at least as much as the kids did.

    It’s true, my professional development was curtailed, and I could not go back into the same field today without a lot more effort than I’m willing to put into it. But my personal development has soared! I read, discuss, write, research, problem-solve, interact, volunteer, and learn. For a homemaker/homeschooler, the WORLD is my job site and my classroom. I think it’s the best job in the world.

    But it’s good that others prefer other jobs. There’s a lot that needs to be done in this world.

  60. I’m curious as to how old you are, Lara?

    I didn’t become a parent until I was 31 years old and the large span in ages between my children has kept me (mostly) out of the workforce for the past 13 years. I have Master’s degree and before I had children, I had job that paid well and all that. Personally, I wouldn’t trade having been here for my children for anything. I’m busier now than I’ve ever been and in addition to child rearing, I have a lot more time to ecplore my own interests as my children grow older.

    That being said, your posts were “sincerely” snotty. I sincerely believe that putting small children in daycare is wrong. I’m sorry that being a stay at home mom didn’t work out for you, but you could at least attempt to be less of ass about other people’s choices?

  61. Where do DH and I fit in? We are debt free therefore work only when we feel like it. DH brings home most of the money working for himself at home. When we feel we have enough money, we stop working for a while until we need more. My dd childhood memories will be of both of us hanging out.

    Dd sees us and helps us build things, do home repairs and housework, volunteer in our community, read, attend (and sometimes lead) educational seminars, sew (dh) embroider(me) weave(dd) paint (all of us) and make music(dd and me). We are so well known in our town that the mayor and members of the city council will sometimes ask our advice. I do worry that dd may not learn a work ethic from us but hopefully she will learn from our morality, helpfulness and pursuit of knowledge.

    I do wish there were more stay-at-home fathers out there. To leave that job only to women infers that men are incompetent at it and that’s all women can do. The fact is, children learn from a wealth of different personalities and lifestyles. We know a lot of professional women and I’m glad my dd has that oppurtunity.

  62. I love it, Mary Margaret. I’m of a similar mind set, Although my DH works full time. I pick up assignments when the mood, and necessity, strike. I’d actually be sad if my kids remembered me based solely on the fact that I sit at the computer nitpicking other people’s writing, just because that’s what I do for money.

  63. I keep busy through LOTS of things. I read a LOT. And not just romance novels (although those are pretty fun, too😉 ), I take community education classes (I just finished my second belly-dancing class), …

    Basically, I make sure I have time for myself, doing things I enjoy every day. Frequently, the “things I enjoy” fall under the raising my daughter category. For instance, right now I’m making a Quiet Book that is WAY more elaborate than necessary.

    I am discovering that I’m a very lucky person, in that I have lots of friends an sisters who are also SAH mom’s. We spend a lot of time together, working on projects, taking our kids to parks and museums, sharing recipes, etc. I worked for a while after I had my daughter. I even worked someplace where they let me bring her in with me, and it was only 10-20 hours per week, depending on my mood. But I realized it wasn’t a good idea to bring my daughter when she broke my boss’s computer. I worked it out so I could work from home, but she needed me during the day so I’d have to stay up til 2 a.m. to get my job done. It finally wasn’t worth the hassle.

    I agree that there are lots of moms out there who are better for their kids if they get out of the house. There are times when I REALLY miss my old job as a loan underwriter. I mean, REALLY miss it. But the thought of leaving my daughter everyday literally breaks my heart. I’d rather be a little bored every day than miss out on all the little things she does.

    Also, I agree with Mary Margaret. My dad was in a really bad car accident and is now on disability. My mom went to work as soon as all the kids were in school, but she became the main bread winner about 7 years ago when my dad stopped working. And he LOVES being home. I mean, he spends all day cleaning and gardening. He likes to make sure dinner is ready when my mom gets home from work. He’s always looking for opportunities to watch his grandkids (Since all his kids are adults now) and when he had kids living at home, he was always there to help with homework or talk about their day. One of my good friends stays home with his son because his wife makes more with her medical degree working 3 days a week than he ever could with his communications degree. So why send the kid to daycare if it’s not necessary?

    Please, also, realize I’m not bashing day care. There are a LOT of great ones out there. I know it’s a great way to teach your kids to play with others since the teacher can’t break up every single fight. I know if you get a good one, they probably would do a better job of teaching kids their letters and numbers than I would. But I don’t want my kids there.

    I was VERY close to my parents growing up, and I want to try to be that close with my kids. I want them to feel comfortable talking to me til 2 a.m. on a week night, and the surest way I know of is to copy what my parents did and that was for my mom to stay home as long as possible.

  64. Linda Lou,

    We have been the same age when having kids.

    And I seriously believe in the long run it is bad for woman NOT to work. There are so many prime examples out there of families losing everything under unfavorable circumstances. What do you do if your husband wants a divorce or has a car accidents and is otherwise incapable of providing a sufficient income? The economic times are tough, we owe it to ourselves and the family to stay on top of job AND home.

    I have a hard time understanding woman from that perspective. If that makes me arrogant, so be it.

    I am, however, sure, that neither of us wants anything bad happen to family and kids. Thus, we all make choices to the best of our knowledge. Sometimes I feel, that woman neglect the economical situation too much, though, and react too emotional.

    Lara

  65. being a parent means that giving all best to them. Our best time, our best attention, ….

  66. When all is said and done , I will know that I may not have been important in your eyes because I wasnt making money or held a “important” title . Most working mothers have myths that we are isolated and sit down all day .Well, I wonder why working moms are so spiteful. I love my friends that are working moms . As long as they understand that my choice is my choice and they have no right to assume or be judgemental. I am caring for my children while they are young .Those are my priorities. I am really lucky to do that and I am not naive about my future and I am not sure why working moms have all these assumptions that stay at home moms are dependent and unable to think . It is all relative as to what you think is the “right” way. There is no “right ” way ….as long as you love your children, thats really what matters.

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  68. On the subject of the books… my childhood books are intact, and most of them were my mothers before me (so around 50 years old for some of them)… my parents read to me from when I was very little. I think the difference is that they were books, not toys. Why would you leave books for a child to destroy instead of providing more robust toys for their own play?

  69. […] Are You Spending Enough Are Parents Spending Enough Time with Their Kids … time you spent ‘quality time’ with *your* CEO? Really people, it’s not … but there is a line between spending too much time … […]

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  71. Well, we should be interested in children. At these days, because they will be provoke by the bad

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