A new study reveals something it took me many years to learn: being around your children 24/7 isn’t necessarily the marker of a great mom. Even though the parenting culture in America right now would have you believe otherwise. In a landscape dotted with moms and dads becoming major helicopter parents, you’d think time spent with your kids is the key to their success, right?
Not so fast. As The Washington Post reports, “the time parents spent with their kids between the ages of 3 and 11 has virtually no relationship to how children turn out.” In fact, according to the first large-scale longitudinal study of parent time to be published in April in the Journal of Marriage and Family, mothers’ guilt-ridden efforts to spend as much time as possible with their children may be having the opposite effect of what they intend. Talk about a game-changer.
Kei Nomaguchi, sociologist and study co-author, told The Washington Post, “We found consistently that mothers’ distress is related to poor outcomes for their children.” He said this can include behavioral and emotional problems and “even lower math scores.” Apparently a lot of mom stress is caused by what researchers call “intensive mothering” beliefs that have ratcheted up the standards for what it takes to be considered a good mother in recent decades. The idea that mothers’ time with children is “irreplaceable” and “sacred” has led to moms cutting back on sleep and adult-time to focus on their children.
Here’s a surprising statistic The Washington Post offers: working mothers today are spending as much time with their children as at-home mothers did in the early 1970s. That tells me that guilt and pressure for moms to be everything to their kids all at once is at an all-time high. If you ever needed a reason to step back and assess your parental plan of attack, let this study be it. In your quest to be the best mom you can be, are you spending so much time with your children that you have nothing left to give at the end of a long day? Being the best mom you can be involves you figuring out a way to be the best you and if that includes time spent away from kids, then so be it.
That doesn’t mean parenting time with children isn’t crucial, it’s just that the amount of time doesn’t seem to matter as much as we previously thought. I only recently learned this on my own. After attempting to be with my children all day every day while working from home, I returned to a full-time job. The biggest change I immediately noticed is that I’m actually excited to see my kids at the end of a work day. That’s in stark contrast to constantly telling them “mommy just needs one damn minute” when attempting to work from home. I’ve also recently made it a priority to pay a babysitter to come in weekly so I can get some child-free time when I’m not working. I don’t feel guilty about spending that time away either, because when I’m happy (and less stressed out) my kids are happy too.
We live in a society that still has confused feelings about working moms who place children in daycare. Perhaps if we understood that quality is key, parents everywhere would feel less guilt and pressure which would, in turn, lead to happier children. It’s not about constantly being present for your child, it’s about constantly attempting to grab snippets of quality time here and there. What good is rearranging your life to be with your children all the time if you’re a tired, stressed out, guilt-ridden parent? Sneak quality moments with your children throughout your week — dinnertime, evenings together, bedtime — when you can truly connect. As study author Melissa Milkie says, “The amount of time doesn’t matter, but these little pieces of time do … Just don’t worry so much about time.”
I don’t know about you, but this news is music to a tired, stressed-out mom’s ears.