Guilt is a powerful force. We feel guilty that we didn’t finish our work on time. We feel guilty that we skipped that important school meeting. And we even feel guilty that we let the phone call that came from an aunt go to voice mail. But no longer do we have to feel guilt over not spending enough time with our children.
We have always assumed that with the rise of two-income families that we aren’t spending as much time with our kids as our parents did. The reality is that we really are spending time with our kids, in fact, more than what parents did in the mid-1960s.
Researchers from the University of California compared time spent with children in 11 different nations in the years of 1965 and 2012. In all but one country (France), both parents spent far more time in caregiving at the current time than in the ’60s. The average for mothers in 1965 was 54 minutes with the more recent time almost doubled at 104 minutes. A larger difference, however, existed with men. In the 60s, fathers spent 16 minutes a day but now are clocking in at 59 minutes, nearly four times as much. These amounts of time reflect the current trend toward more involved fathers. Parents, no doubt, are highly involved in caring for and interacting with their kids today.
The researchers said time spent with children involved everything from preparing their meals and snacks to feeding and bathing them, changing diapers and clothes, putting them to bed, getting up in the middle of the night, unpaid babysitting, providing medical care, reading and playing with them, as well as supervising and helping with homework.
Time spent is only one part of the equation. The question is whether this is time spent, or true involvement. If everyone is involved in their favorite video game or the screens in their world, maybe this time is not necessarily involvement. So let’s take a look today at ways we can, not just spend time, but rather have meaningful interaction with our children.
Make a date with your child. Set aside the time to visit with them individually. Let them choose the activity. Whether it is playing a favorite board game or a trip to the park, plan together for your time.
Talk to them. Ask questions about their day. Don’t let them get away with yes or no — ask probing questions that require them to think. What would you do if you had $1 million? If you could be anything you want, what would it be? Of all the things you do, what is your favorite and why? These type of questions will tell you much about what your child believes, their dreams, and how they think. It shows that you are interested and it will tip you off when challenges are arising.
Eat (and cook) together. Research shows that the family that eats together has better outcomes in child rearing. Families that eat together five or more times a week have lower rates of smoking, drinking and illegal drug use. In addition, the children are better students.
I always add cooking because home-cooked meals are usually more nutritious, have more vegetables and fruits, are less likely to be fried and highly salted and are less likely to be accompanied by a sugar-sweetened beverage. The ability to prepare a meal is an important life skill that they will use the rest of their lives.
Finally, put their activities on your calendar. One of my kids remarked when he went to college to play football that it was the first time in his life that his father and I weren’t always in the stands. Aim for that kind of comment from your children. Soccer or hockey or debate rules may be a mystery to you, but be there to support them. You also might learn a little about their chosen activity as well.
Spend time and make the time count that you do spend with your children.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 907-474-7201.