If you think about it Americans like to guilt-trip parents a lot.
Our society makes parents feel like they should want to spend every waking moment with their kids. We tell them “They won’t be that age for long” to implore them to take every opportunity to be with their mini-humans. But according to a new study, it’s not about quantity when it comes to time spent with your kids, it’s quality.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that the amount of time spent with children between the ages of 3 and 11 does not affect how they will eventually turn out.
And if you’re spending time with your kids when you’re stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty, or anxious — then that time with them is harmful.
Photo: Keira Burton/Pexels
“When mothers are stressed because of the juggling with work and trying to find time with kids, they may be affecting their kids poorly,” co-author Kei Nomaguchi, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University tells the Washington Post.
So what exactly is considered as “quality time”? Things like reading to a child, having meals together, talking with them, and having one-on-one time have much more positive effects on kids.
“In an ideal world, this study would alleviate parents’ guilt about the amount of time they spend,” says Melissa Milkie, a sociologist at the University of Toronto and one of the report’s authors, “and show instead what’s important for kids.”
So, if quality time is the one that counts, then how much quality time is enough? Unfortunately, the study didn’t find an answer to that.
“I’m not aware of any rich and telling literature on whether there’s a ‘sweet spot’ of the right amount of time to spend with kids,” said Matthew Biel, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Georgetown University Medical Center.
Not only is the quality of the time spent with children important, but so is income and the educational level of the mother, especially when it comes to the future success of the children.
“If we’re wanting to think about the bigger picture and ask, how would we support kids, our study suggests through social resources that help the parents in terms of supporting their mental health and socio-economic status,” said Milkie. “The sheer amount of time that we’ve been so focused on them doesn’t do much.”
So if you have a particularly demanding job, don’t beat yourself up about working long days and nights. Just make sure when you ARE around that you’re making the most out of your time with the little nuggets.
Nicole Weaver is a senior writer for Showbiz Cheat Sheet whose work has been featured in New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, and more.