WHITNEY: Spend less time with kids
Turns out there’s something else I’m doing wrong as a parent — and you probably are, too.
Last week, the Washington Post’s Brigid Schulte reported on a new study that suggests children may not benefit from more time spent with their parents.
“In fact, it appears the sheer amount of time parents spend with their kids between the ages of 3 and 11 has virtually no relationship to how children turn out,” Schulte writes, “and a minimal effect on adolescents, according to the first large-scale longitudinal study of parent time to be published in April in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
“That’s not to say that parent time isn’t important. Plenty of studies have shown links between quality parent time — such as reading to a child, sharing meals, talking with them or otherwise engaging with them one-on-one — and positive outcomes for kids,” she writes. “The same is true for parents’ warmth and sensitivity toward their children. It’s just that the quantity of time doesn’t appear to matter.”
Well then. What am I supposed to do now?
Apparently, I’m supposed to back off a little, give my kid some room for independent play and follow it up with some togetherness and reading “when possible.” For mothers, that’s about 14 hours a week; for fathers, it’s about 7.
So here’s a great time to dole out that time-honored, motherly adage, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Don’t quit your day job to spend more time with your kids, at least according to one study.
And speaking of that job you’re going to keep, it could have a larger impact on your quality time with your kids than you might imagine.
In March, researchers at Michigan State University found “People whose family life regularly interferes with their job (or vice versa) are more likely to become emotionally exhausted and, in turn, verbally abusive to coworkers and loved ones.”
The key to avoiding these conflicts, they found, was having a boss who is good at helping you maintain a work-life balance. That means accommodating employees who need to leave work early for the occasional family function, and not sending them urgent emails during dinner hours, for example.
The researchers in the study Schulte covered also tapped into this idea, but from the perspective of the child of the stressed parent, saying mothers’ distress is related to poor outcomes for their children, including behavioral and emotional problems and lower math scores.
The takeaways: Don’t worry about spending a lot of time with your children, as long as you can spend some quality (read: unstressed, engaged) time with them throughout the week. Give your kids some space.
As for me? I think this probably is all spot on, and my own personal research backs it up.
We’re starting to discuss preschool these days, and the idea has really sparked Olivia’s curiosity. As we were taking one of our nightly walks this week, Olivia said to me, “Mom, can I go school?”
“You wanna go to school this fall?” I replied.
“Yes, please!” she shouted. “I go school now?”
I’ll take that as a sign.
Whitney Gronski-Buffa is the Pioneer’s parenting columnist. After four years reporting and editing at the paper, she’s stepped back to spend more time with her family. Read more here each week and reach her at email@example.com.