Once a woman pops a baby out, it’s like that space is automatically filled with a mysterious cloud that seemingly never goes away. That, people, is guilt. For some women, it’s overwhelming; for others, it’s this feeling that you can’t quite put your finger on but that damn cloud always finds a way to come out, more often than not.
But we’re here to reassure you. A new study has found that devoting more time to your child(ren) isn’t necessarily better.
OK. We’ll give you a minute to take that in. But before you sharpen your pitchforks and light your torches, let us elaborate.
According to The Washington Post, “the first large-scale longitudinal study of parent time” — which will be published in the Journal of Marriage and Family this month — says that quality trumps quantity. But one of the co-authors of the paper, Kathleen E. Denny, Ph.D., at the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, told The Loop that their paper doesn’t talk about quality; rather, they were focused solely on quantity of time and how that’s spent.
“‘Engaged time’ versus ‘accessible time’ is more of what we’re getting at here,” says Kenny. “We did look at time mothers spent engaged with the child and that would be directly participating in activities with him or her.”
The Washington Post reports that “researchers analyzed the time diaries of a nationally representative sample of children over time, looking at parent time and outcomes when the children were between the ages of 3 and 11 in 1997, and again in 2002, when the children were between the ages of 12 and 17.” However Kenny adds that they weren’t aware of what parents and kids were doing with that time.
“What activities they’re engaged in, if it’s warm interaction, all that is really important for outcomes. We know that those have been documented as being important for children’s emotional and behavioural well-being,” she says.
That being said, she emphasizes that they were just “testing the prevalent cultural assumption that more, of specifically mothers’ time, is necessarily better, that more is better. And we didn’t really find that more is necessarily better of mothers.”
The study also found that engaged time and connectivity between adolescents and mothers was related to “less delinquent behaviour.” Another comforting result, no?
Understandably, the reaction to the results has been divided, whether it be between women balancing careers and families, stay-at-home moms and those who simply believe that this is pseudoscience and all a bunch of hooey.
But for many working moms, this may be the most reassuring news you’ve gotten in a long time. With fewer hours to work with, the study is simply saying that it’s more about what you do with the time, rather than increasing time for the sake of… increasing time.
So put down your phone (oh, is that just us?), get down on your hands and knees with the Lego or that 1,000-piece puzzle and go to town. Or instead of having your nose behind that book or, again, on our damn phones, run around the playground or get on the swings with your kids. It’s about making more of the time you have and making that time count. That’s what really matters.