For the first two years of parenthood, spending quality time with Mae was a no-brainer. Not only was she an old child, but she was so demanding of our time that there wasn’t any way we could spend less than A LOT of quality time with her.
Then Dylan came along. When I was pregnant with her, I worried a lot about how we would ensure that Mae didn’t feel slighted in any way, while still helping her to understand that we also needed to share our love and attention with her new little sister. Not an easy task.
So when Dylan was born, we over-indexed on showing Mae extra attention. We would plan special outings with just one of us so she could have one-on-one time; I would still put her to bed every other night (Nate and I alternate the bedtime routines), even though it was tough since Dylan wanted to breastfeed all evening.
Mae transitioned fairly seamlessly out of her “only-child” world, either because of our efforts or because she was young enough that she just rolled with the punches. We felt like we were out of the weeds.
Fast forward two years. The honeymoon period is over, and we’re not 100% focused every day on divvying out the perfect amount of attention to each of our girls. Sure, we love spending time and playing with them, but life takes over – work, chores, activities – and it becomes more challenging. The other night, I found myself feeling guilty yet again about not spending enough quality time with them that day, and then I stopped myself with this question: How much IS “enough” quality time each day? Am I really not spending enough quality time with them, or are my expectations just off?
Of course, no one can tell you exactly how much is enough quality time for you and your children – only you can decide that – but I thought it was worth doing some exploring to see what I could find on the topic.
Do we spend more or less time with our kids these days?
The first thing I wondered is whether we actually spend more time or less time with our kids nowadays than parents did in previous generations. When I was a kid, my parents and grandparents were certainly always around, but I remember playing with my sister while they cooked or did housework – not so much a ton of time playing with them, specifically. I thought about the stories my parents have told me (leaving the house in the morning to play with friends and not returning until dinner time), and it sounds like their parents spent even LESS time with them. So, my hypothesis was that we actually spend more time with our kids today than parents have in the past.
And, I was correct! The Economist covered an interesting study showing that we spend twice as much time caring for our kids now as parents did 50 years ago. In 1965, parents spent about 52 minutes a day with their kids, and now we spend about 104. (BTW, I particularly like that Denmark parents spent about 5 minutes a day with their kids back in 1965 – how did they pull that off??)
Here’s something else to think about – only 35% of women worked outside the home back in 1965, and today, that’s true for more than 83% of women. So…we’re spending more time with our kids, AND we’re holding down jobs, and we’re still convinced we’re not doing enough. Why?
Two words: mom guilt. Our deep-ingrained desire/need to mother and care for our children is at conflict with our desire/need to work, and we feel guilty too much of the time. Amy Dugan, attorney at King & Fisher, describes working mom guilt as a “feeling that creeps in every so often that you aren't spending enough time with your children, and that by working, you're somehow not doing what is best for your children."
What is “quality” time?
Ok, so we’ve established that we’re actually spending twice as much time with our children as our grandparents spent with their children, and the reason we still feel guilty has a lot to do with work and competing priorities. On to my next question: how do I define “quality” time?
When I add up how much time I spend with my kids each weekday, as their sole caregiver, it’s 6 hours. Because I work remote, I also get to see them during the work day when I pop out of my office (or they bust in), but I certainly wouldn’t consider that to be quality time.
During that 6 hours, a lot of it is spent doing everyday life things…feeding them breakfast and dinner, getting them dressed, giving them baths, etc. Certainly there is play time in there as well, but most of the time, Mae and Dylan are playing together while I sort laundry, do dishes, or tidy the house. So, I wouldn’t consider that to be quality time with me.
I guess, when I stop to think about, I consider quality time to be those moments when I give my complete, undivided attention to my kids and play with them – chasing them, having a tea party, coloring, etc. I love these moments, but inevitably, they don’t last very long, as I’m interrupted by the need to set the table or answer a late work call. And, of course, I feel guilty about that.
And back to my original question…how much is “enough” quality time?
I took an amazing online course by Amy McCready called Positive Parenting Solutions (you might have heard of it before!), and she recommends spending at least 10 minutes per day of uninterrupted, quality time with each of your children separately. To me, 10 minutes a day feels like a good number. Some of you might think that’s too little, and some might think it sounds impossible to squeeze another thing in your day! But, on the days when I successfully focus on each of my kids for 10 solid minutes and play whatever they want to play, I feel pretty good. And on days when it just didn’t happen for us, I snuggle with Mae after I’ve read to her at night, and we spend a few minutes talking about how our day went. It’s cathartic for both of us. 😊
My personal opinion is that us moms need to be easier on ourselves. We’re juggling so much, and while we may feel that we’re not spending enough quality time with our kids, they may not feel that way at all! As long as we’re loving our children every day, I think we’re doing a pretty great job.
About Katie Stansberry
Katie Stansberry is a work-remote mom of two sweet girls and the creator of Breastfeeding Bliss. After struggling at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey, she wanted to create a happy place where breastfeeding moms could find practical tips, positive inspiration, and the newest and best breastfeeding products. On her "Back to Bliss" breastfeeding blog, she shares her personal stories and tips for making breastfeeding and motherhood an easier and more enjoyable experience.