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.

Nooooooooooo!! No Longer School Days, Less Vacation, Obama!

Hi Readers! Worrying that American students are falling behind their international counterparts, President Obama is floating the idea of longer school days and shorter vacations. This is about as uncreative a solution as a man all about “change” could possibly have come up with.

“Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas,” the president has said. “Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.”

Really? Who’s to say American kids are lagging because they aren’t spending enough time in school? Maybe it’s because they aren’t spending enough time LEARNING TO DO THINGS ON THEIR OWN! Kids who organize their own games of kickball develop communication skills, compromise, agility. Kids who sit at home with a book develop imagination, smarts. Kids who bake a cake work on their math skills. Kids who babysit develop empathy, and all-important fridge-raiding skills. Kids who look for four-leaf clovers (my one hobby as a young child) develop…the need for glasses. But also patience and a respect for nature. 

There are so many “skills” a child does not get in the classroom, it is ridiculous to even have to argue this point. Especially because here’s the weirdest fact of all: Our kids already DO get more time in school.  Tampa Bay Online reports that:

Children in the United States spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do students in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the United States on math and science tests — Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013).

So our kids should spend more time than they’re already spending even though with all that extra time they’re BEHIND? Couldn’t you interpret these numbers to say the LESS time kids spend in school the BETTER they do on math and science tests?

And it’s not like when you add on school hours there’s no trade-off! MORE school time means LESS self-direction. If we want to raise a nation of young people who never do anything without being told by an adult to do it, it’s hardly assured that we will end up with the kind of leaders and entrepresneurs Obama is looking for.

And besides: who will harvest our nation’s four leaf clovers? — Lenore