Ditch the Guilt:  3 Myths about Spending Time with Our Kids

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10 second summary:  The quality of time we spend with our kids is what counts, not the quantity. Recent studies debunk the myth that the more time we spend with our kids the better. Stressing about spending time with our kids is actually damaging to them and us. Seeing us stressed bothers them and affects their academic and emotional development. So think quality over quantity. Taking time for ourselves to get more sleep, exercise, and “me” time helps decrease stress and improve the quality—and fun—of the time we do spend with our kids.


Ditch the guilt of not spending enough time with your kids

 “Mom, can you snuggle with me?” Now what mamma can resist a quick snuggle when an adorable 4 year old blinks up at them with bright, big eyes and the long beautiful eyelashes most toddlers have?

I give my daughter a quick hug and my brain starts to whirl as I think through how to answer. I could say…

“Mommy has to go to work now, I can’t watch TV with you honey.”

Or maybe…

“I’d love to sweetheart, but I gotta get ready to leave for my meeting.”

What I’d really love to do is plop down beside her and hold her for 30 minutes or as long as she’d let me.

But I can’t.

And guilt sets in.

How can I show my daughter how much I love her when I can’t spend as much time with her as I would like? Because spending as much time as possible with her is required if I’m going to be a “good mom,” right?


Three myths about spending time with our kids

On March 4, 2015 the Journal of Marriage and Family published the results of an intensive study called “Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend With Children or Adolescents Matter?” Author Melissa Milkie explains the study meticulously tracked the time mothers spent with their children and the children’s intellectual, social, and behavioral outcomes. Milkie’s conclusions?

“I could literally show you 20 charts, and 19 of them would show no relationship between the amount of parents’ time and children’s outcomes…Nada. Zippo.”

 Spending time with our kids is still critically important and does affect positive outcomes. But the focus is on quality of the time, not the quantity. One-to-one activities that engage our children, like reading to them, sharing meals, and talking with them have huge benefits. So does displaying love, warmth, and sensitivity. But the quantity of time doesn’t seem to really matter.

(Side note—spending an adequate amount of time with kids in their teen years does make a difference. Parents who are engaged and slightly “strict” helped minimize or prevent delinquent teen behavior.)

“In an ideal world, this study would alleviate parents’ guilt about the amount of time they spend,” Milkie said, “and show instead what’s really important for kids.”

Myth #1 = Working mothers don’t spend enough time with their kids.

A long-held myth is that working moms don’t spend enough time with their kids, especially if they work outside of the home. They should be constantly worried about and focused on squeezing in every spare minute of time with their kiddos, to “make up” for their long absence at work most days.

Fact:  Mothers today spend the same amount of time with their kids on average as mothers did in the early ‘70s (when many stayed home). How is this possible? Moms give up sleep, neglect themselves, and push themselves to pour in as much time as they can with their kids. This just isn’t healthy for moms; or for kids either.

When parents spend time with kids but are “stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty, and anxious,”the stress itself is actually harmful. Take time to decompress and don’t stress about spending so much time with your kids. Take a few minutes for you, then spend some relaxing fun time with your kids.

(Hint—this My Daily Ten site is chock-full of ways you can squeeze in a quick workout, meditate, defeat discouragement, and more in 10 minutes or less. Complete one quick pick-me-up activity before hanging out with your kiddos and you’ll notice a big positive difference!)

Myth #2 = The more time you spend with your kids the better.

Fact:  We need to spend quality time with our kids, but the sheer amount of time we spend with them doesn’t affect their academic or emotional success. Study co-author Kei Nomaguchi, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University, says that building relationships and seizing quality moments of connection, not quantity, is what research shows is most important for both parent and child well-being.

“The amount of time doesn’t matter, but these little pieces of time do,” she said. Her advice to parents? “Just don’t worry so much about time.”


Myth #3 = The best parents have lives dominated by their children.

Fact:  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children enjoy daily unstructured time to play on their own. This helps them develop their imagination, social skills, and resilience.

Children 4 years old and up should have at least 1 hour of on-their-own playtime (in a safe environment with parents nearby, of course). Too much time with parents and “parent hovering” squashes a child’s problem solving ability.

Moms, let’s ditch the guilt!

Stressing about spending time with our kids just stresses them out, and causes unnecessary guilt for us busy trying-our-best moms. Let’s ditch the guilt and follow the simple yet wise advice of Washington Post writer Brigid Shulte and study authors Milkie and Nomaguchi:

  1. Take a deep breath (and take care of YOU)
  2. Make the most of the time you DO have with your kids
  3. Try to have some fun

Oh, and how I answered my daughter when she asked to snuggle with me?

“Sure honey!  I only have 2 minutes before I have to go to work, but I’d love to spend them with you. Hugs!”

Quality over quantity, I’ll take a 2 minute snuggle over none any day!


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