- the study examined children ages 3-11 and adolescents ages 12-18
- the outcomes that were assessed in the children included emotional adjustment, academic achievement and behavior
- the authors looked two types of time: (1) accessible time—time in presence of mother, but not engaged in an activity; (2) engaged time—basically any time engaged with the mother in an activity
- the data came from time diaries from one weekday and one weekend day. The authors “created” weekly sums by extrapolating 2 day sums to a full week (they say this is a common practice)
- they also looked at children and adolescents’ time spent with their father (alone) and both parents
- as usual, the study include other structural factors—mothers’ education, family income, family structure (i.e., two-parent, single parent, step-family, etc)
First, the main finding that prompted all the headlines was this one: the sheer amount of time mothers spent with their children was not associated with any of the child outcomes. It did not matter when the authors looked at engaged time or accessible time; the amount of time was not related to outcomes. This was for children only; there were some relevant findings concerning time spent with adolescents (I’ll save that for another post).
Related reading: Why The Childcare Crisis In The Us Affects All Of Us
“although we examined engaged time, in which children and mothers were interacting with each other, we did not focus on quality time – the amount of time in particular quality activities with children, such as reading or eating meals together versus watching TV or cleaning with them – neither did we assess the quality or tone of mothers interaction with children, such as warmth, sensitivity or focus.”
What is Quality Time?
Related reading: Acts of Kindness for Kids: Ideas Kids Can Do While Stuck at Home
Guilt is Not the Answer
How about taking a different approach? How about we “own” these feelings of guilt and use it as an opportunity for self-reflection. How are our children doing? Are they misbehaving at school or acting particularly rebellious at home? If so, maybe this is a sign that we do need to spend more time with them. However, it’s not because we feel guilty; it’s because our children need us. If our children are overall adjusted and seem to be functioning well, then maybe our guilt it just societal-driven and not based on anything real.
Getting Beyond Quality vs Quantity Time with Kids
We all face many pressures as parents in today’s culture. I think the key is to take some time to really look at your specific family and decide whether your choices to work or stay at home or work part-time are really meeting the needs of everyone involved. If so, then have confidence in your parenting and the idea that you are doing best you can. Please do not buy into this media-contrived idea of “quality vs quantity” time with kids. This is not the answer; parenting and life are much more complicated than that.
Milkie, M., Nomaguchi, K., & Denny, K. (2015). Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend With Children or Adolescents Matter? Journal of Marriage and Family, 77 (2), 355-372 DOI: 10.1111/jomf.12170