The way I remember childhood, life was often boring, or a little lonely. You moped around, wondering what to do. You’d get really excited about special treats like Christmas or birthdays, and then spend a lot of time twiddling your thumbs waiting for them to happen.
The grown-ups stayed busy doing grown-up things like cooking dinner or talking on the phone, and you’d scamper about on the periphery, trying to be noticed but not get underfoot.
That’s totally normal. But somewhere along the line we parents — especially us working parents — seem to have forgotten that’s the case.
I have this sense that as a Good Parent I should be with my son constantly, playing with him, teaching him things, engaging him in activities and conversation. I should always be “on,” and, by the way, also cheerful, and energetic — the Anne Hathaway of work-at-home dads.
The Pew Research Center found that 26% of working moms feel they spend too little time with their kids. When the same was asked of working dads, 48% felt that way, and almost half of these guys believe they’re not doing a great job at parenting.
But guess what? Turns out we all need to chill out about our parenting, because EVERYTHING WE KNOW IS WRONG.
The Washington Post reports that, whether you’re a mom or a dad, the amount of time you spend with your kid doesn’t matter at all, at least up until the age of 11. There is really no relationship, apparently, between the quantity of time you spend with your children and their academic success, behavior, and emotional well-being. In fact, there can actually be a negative effect, if you’re stressed and anxious, sleep-deprived, and guilty. So if you’re in a bad mood, do your kids a favor and don’t hang out with them.
This isn’t to say that reading to your children, talking with them one-on-one, or having a meal together doesn’t have a positive effect. It does. The number of times you do it, though, doesn’t matter.
Of course, the study doesn’t indicate how much quality time is enough quality time, so I guess we still can worry, if we want to worry. It’s just that there’s so much to worry about these days – school, socializing, guns, etc. – perhaps we should just take “time spent with kids” off the table.
If we felt good about any amount of time spent engaged with our kids then we would enjoy that time more, right? We’d have a wonderful, fuzzy feeling and that would shine through our words and actions, and make it a warmer, more pleasurable time for all involved.
Unless you have a teenager. In which case, the study finds you should be spending about six hours of time with them a week. Just that small amount cuts down on delinquent behavior like drug and alcohol abuse. It also, for no reason I can understand, improves their math scores.