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Parents Working At Home Hurts Kids

2650178369_a012269010USA Today offers a heaping helping of guilt to working parents today with a story about how work at home hours conflict with family time.

Recent studies have shown that in spite of the rise of dual-income families, parents today spend more time with their kids than they did in the 1950s.

Now USA Today has rounded up a slew of experts to say that parents, especially moms, are hurting our kids by working when they’re around. Don’t worry, though, moms. You can still do housework.

The reporting is based, for the most part, on anecdote rather than data. The experts – psychologists, sociologists and parents – interviewed for the article all feel that the technology parents use to make their schedules more flexible also distracts them from focusing on their kids. But no one has any data to prove this.

Instead the story is peppered with comments like this on from Sherry Turkle, director of MITs Initiative for Technology and the Self:

“A mother putting laundry in while the child sits on the couch is not the same as a mother concentrating on this screen and going into this virtual space. Kids are totally attuned. They know … their parents are in la-la land.”

That’s right: you can do all the housework you want and not risk neglecting your kids. But if you’re using your Blackberry (and by implication your brain), your children will feel ignored.

It’s a popular sentiment, echoed by a columnist at MomLogic who just took a vow not to use her Blackberry when she’s out in public with her kid. Unless that phone call or e-mail is really important, mind. It’s not like she’s contemplating leaving the device at home or anything crazy like that.

To me it just feels like another mechanism of social control on moms. It’s not enough to be with your kids, the logic seems to go. You need to be giving them your undivided attention at all times.

This is a complicated issue. Technology can be addictive; I’ve definitely caught myself checking my e-mail at the dinner table a few times since I got my iPhone. As a parent who works at home and has primary caretaking responsibility for the kids, I work hard to set aside time that’s just for them. Technology makes it easier for me to work and harder for me to keep work at bay when it’s storytime.

On the other hand, most parents need to work. Nearly half of households with young kids have both parents working full time.

Not only do a lot of us prefer to spend time with our kids, but many of us can’t afford to pay for childcare for all the hours we need to be working. If we can answer a few e-mails while our kids play at the playground, I for one am willing to call that a win.

Photo: Ed Yourdon

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