[I]t 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, 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. The finding includes children’s academic achievement, behavior and emotional well-being…
the study found one key instance when parent time can be particularly harmful to children. That’s when parents, mothers in particular, are stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious.
“Mothers’ stress, especially when mothers are stressed because of the juggling with work and trying to find time with kids, that may actually be affecting their kids poorly…”
Now if I understand this study correctly (big news in The Washington Post today), it means that there is never any point to questioning the choice you make as a parent, or judging the choice of another parent. Whatever you or another parent does, it’s all in how it’s done.
“Stress, sleep-deprived, guilty or anxious.”
That kind of stress can come to a mother whether she’s working outside the home or in it.
So be good to yourselves. And as your kids get older, just as they may become a bit surlier with puberty, have dinner with them and talk with them. Together with a partner, if you’ve got one:
…[W]here the quantity of time parents spend does indeed matter is during adolescence: The more time a teen spends engaged with their mother, the fewer instances of delinquent behavior. And the more time teens spend with both their parents together in family time, such as during meals, the less likely they are to abuse drugs and alcohol and engage in other risky or illegal behavior. They also achieve higher math scores. The study found positive associations for teens who spent an average of six hours a week engaged in family time with the parents.
The study reminds me to focus on myself. Focus on my marriage. Model the resulting health and contentment for my kids.
Our daughter was watching a nature documentary the other night. Apparently, she watched chimpanzees or baboons mourn the death of a baby in their family. She mentioned it at dinner… and later during the meal, asked:
“What’s the point of life?”
My husband and I looked at each other, and back at her.
“What do you think the point of life is?” I countered.
“I don’t know. I mean, what are we supposed to do?”
My husband kept chewing. I ventured in to uncharted waters.
“What are you good at, and what makes you happy? Maybe that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
“Yeah,” she acknowledged. “I think that when you die, you don’t actually just end. I think you come back, but you don’t know you were already here. Like you’re somebody else, but you’re still you, but you don’t remember that you are you.”
I told her that was what many refer to as reincarnation. Please note, we have never discussed reincarnation with her.
“I just think that makes more sense. Otherwise what would you do when you die?”
My husband at this point added, “Well, there are a lot of ways of thinking about it. A lot of people have different ideas… there’s Heaven. Or just the end. Or you come back.”
But our girl. She has her idea. She’s all set.
So asks Ruth Graham, current non-parent, in this lovely piece on Slate this morning: “My Life is a Waking Nightmare.”
…the parents writing these stories are, almost without exception, very capable women… they are competent, loving parents who occasionally feel overwhelmed. They are parents who think and read and write about parenting. Almost by definition, they are doing just fine. Yet, culturally, we applaud their “bad” parenting while becoming less and less tolerant of actual bad parents. This is a country that is increasingly willing to prosecute pregnant women and young mothers for their mistakes with drugs, or for leaving their children home alone in moments of desperation. In a middle-class parenting subculture in which self-acceptance is a bedrock virtue, it’s impossible not to notice a disconnect. (emphasis added)
It’s an economic luxury to complain. It’s an economic luxury to whine. It’s an economic luxury to point fingers.
Is anyone writing about joy? Is there a way to do it without seeming obnoxiously smug or totally dishonest?
Man, I hope so.