Quality is better than quantity. And not working can be more expensive than daycare
The choice of how much time we spend with our young kids versus how much time we, parents, devote to our careers (or making money) is certainly driven by our perception of what is better for our children. Our living circumstances influence it but also, and to a great extent, our beliefs. A mother may well choose to put her career on hold and spend all of her time with her baby, because she believes that is best for her child. Along those lines, many of us would agree with the premise that spending more time with our little ones is a good thing for them – but let’s take a closer look, since it seems recent research upends conventional wisdom on the subject.
Parents in the US are with their children more than any parents in the world1, yet many feel guilty because they don’t think it’s sufficient. This is thought to be caused by a widespread cultural belief that the “time parents, particularly mothers, spend with children is key to ensuring a bright future”1. The fact is that recent research findings suggest the sheer amount of time parents (particularly mothers) spend with their kids (as young as 3) is virtually not related to how children turn out. That’s right: no relationship. And this includes children’s academic achievement, behavior and emotional health.2 A study also showed that mothers’ work hours also don’t matter much at all.
Furthermore, it has been found that parent time can be sometimes harmful to children, that is when we (parents) are stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious.2 Ironically, such stress and anxiety often stems from parents’ (specially mothers) struggle to juggle work and spending more time with their young ones1. Now bear in mind that this does not suggest it is bad to spend time with your kids. It simply says your kids might not benefit from spending time with you, when you are frustrated.
Others have argued that spending some time away from our kids can actually make us better parents. Why? Well, spending time with someone else (our spouse, partner or a caregiver) can give our kids a fresh perspective and help them become more independent. Along the same lines, as an example, it could teach your kid about individuality (as in you have your own life). Also, spending time in the grown up world as ourselves may re-energize us to jump back into parenting and be thankful for re-uniting, and this can be healthy.3
Now, let’s talk numbers. A usual consideration for a parent gauging to stay at home or paying for childcare is obviously the childcare cost versus the opportunity cost of not earning wages. Often the balance tips to the side of staying at home, simply because childcare is really expensive. Think twice. Each lost year of employment could cost a family more than three times a parent's annual salary, over a lifetime, according to a report from the Center for American Progress.4 This is because the opportunity cost of quitting your job is not just your salary, but the growth of your salary over time.
Let’s not take our eyes off what’s important here, though. It is “quality time” with parents, and not the sheer amount of time spent, that is beneficial to our children. There is little argument that there is NO substitution for quality time spent with your little ones, and research has shown a close relationship between quality parent time and positive outcomes for kids1. So, what is spending “quality time” with your child? Well, it can be reading to your child, simply sharing meals, talking or engaging with them one-on-one1. Here is our selection of the top 5 ideas for spending quality time with our young ones: