A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my very conservative friend, Michael. He said that it was optimal that there be a stay at home mom when there are children involved. Not just a stay-at home parent, but a stay at home mom. Why? Because women are more nurturing.
I had to correct him. I am not so nurturing. I love my children, I enjoy spending time with them, and there is nothing more important to me than my daughters. I’ll walk over hot coals for them, or slay dragons. However, nurturing I am not. And, the guilt for moms who can’t stay home with their children, or who simply don’t want to, is overwhelming.
Living in Utah, the Mommy Wars are alive and well, at least in my neighborhood. There is a general thought that women should be at home with their children because of a divine gender role. Those who work because they want to are generally selfish; those that must work are pitied. And having never been that stay-at-home mom, this mindset has generally made me feel angry and guilty. Was there something wrong with me that simply being a mom wasn’t enough? Did my need for the mental stimulation that working provided make me fundamentally flawed? I confess that, guilt aside, the balancing act of career, children, husband, home and Me (yes, somehow in all that, I still mattered, too) was crushing. Clearly I was failing everyone, most notably my children. Stuck in pre school or after school activities or summer camps. Bad mom. Guilt. Failure.
Well let’s just push that all aside! A new study being published in the April issue of the Journal of Marriage And Family says that U.S. parents are spending more time with their children than any other parents in the world. Say what? And the amount of time that parents spend with their children between ages three and 11 matters not at all. And it has minimal effects on adolescents.
How do they measure “success” in parenting? By their academics, behavior and emotional well-being.
Oh.My.Gosh. I can let go of some of that guilt right now, color me happy.
What the study does show is harmful is a mother’s stress level, especially when trying to juggle work commitments and the time they are (or want to be) spending with their children. And what matters most is a mom’s education level and income.
So let me get this straight… If a working mom attempts to come home in a calm(er) manner and set aside stress and enjoy some quality time with her children, that counts. Many other studies show that eating together, especially at a dinner table, has huge benefits. Talking with our children, perhaps spending one-on-one time with them, say, once per week is a Big Fat YES. A little strict parenting isn’t such a bad thing, in fact, it’s generally good. Knowing our kids, smiling and laughing with them, and generally engaging with them– these are things that truly matter.
In my neighborhood of mostly stay at home moms, I have often observed that they don’t seem to actually spend more time with their children than most working moms I know. Their kids walk home from school without any adult supervision, and I often see very small children (like under two years old) who are playing in the streets (not kidding here) without any adult in the vicinity. So while there may be a mom in the home, are the children really getting that much more time with her? I say no. Studies say no. I love validation! (And, honestly, when my children were younger, they wanted to be with their peers playing far more than they wanted to be hanging out with me running errands or cleaning the house anyway.)
So how much quality time is sufficient? According to the study, there is no magic number.
Here are some suggestions, though, on getting that quality time with your children:
- Eat dinner together. Better yet, engage your children with helping to cook, set the table and clean up. Set a rule that all electronic devices, cell phones and TVs, are turned off.
- Institute one-on-one dates with your children. Aim for once per week.
- Tuck your children into bed, regardless of their age. This is a great time to “talk” without distractions.
- Actually make time to talk to your children. Yes, a real conversation. Listen to them, keep the criticism for another time. Ask them questions. You’ll be surprised what they’re willing to confide in you if you give them a chance and they feel “safe.”
- Make eye contact with your children and smile often. Better yet, laugh occasionally.
- Have some rules and be strict. It’s ok to be a parent.
Less mommy guilt today? That sounds so nice.