Earlier this week I wrote Study Proves Moms Spend Too Much Time With Their Kids, Liberates Working Moms Everywhere for my Forbes column, in which I elaborate on the University of Maryland report that found that all this time moms are pressured to spend with their kids makes little difference in their development, while family income does make a difference:
“How Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend with Children Matter?” authors found that the pressure to spend so much quality time with our children means all parents — working and stay-at-home — schedule both professional and housework around the children’s activities to maximize this presumed critical time together — at the detriment to all parties’ emotional wellbeing. To what end?
The researchers found that for young children, not much. In fact, the number of hours a mother spends with her kids aged 3 to 11 has little to no impact on their academic or psychological success.
I went on to write how this research frees me from the working-mom guilt that keeps me shackled to the playground, even though both my kids and I would be happier if I were home working and earning money:
This finding completely confronts and contradicts the prevalent parenting message of our time: More time with your kids is more. Mothers are told in direct and indirect ways: The stay-at-home mom is the better mom. The message is: If you work outside the home, your children will suffer. In fact, a couple years ago a Pew survey found a stunning 40 percent of Americans believe that when a mother (not parent — mother) works outside the home it actually harms her children.
If you are like me and the majority of mothers in the United States, and you work outside the home, it is very hard to avoid feeling guilty and stressed as a result.
The response was tremendous. Plenty of Facebook likes and shares, and some solid support from moms who feel liberated by the research and my admission to resenting a lot of the time I feel pressured to spend with my kids.
Then there were those who, predictably, pushed back:
That basically says money buys happiness, has more of an impact on a child’s well-being than spending time with them.
If your children are being partially raised by a 3rd party, the quality of parenting isn’t quite there.
I don’t think when they are on their deathbeds that most mothers will wish they spent less time with their kids and more time working so they could buy them iPad apps.
To which I say: If relentless mothering were so very great, then:
Rich mothers would not hire full-time help, as they have since the dawn of time.
We’d appreciate and pay child care workers more.
Men would have historically sacrificed career and earning for family time.
The advent of the contemporary stay-at-home mom in the 1950s would not have coincided with spikes in mental illness and substance abuse in these women.
Study after study would not find that working moms are happier moms than their SAHM peers.
Reports like this are so important for mothers everywhere — they validate the urgent need for every woman to be financially autonomous and professionally fulfilled –for her own wellbeing, for that of her children and the health of her romantic relationships, as I love to quote studies that find divorce rates plummet for couples in which both parties are both happily employed and earn similar incomes. This data frees you and me to go on with our careers and work without shame for not spending countless, unfulfilling hours with our children for the sole reason that society tells us that better mothers spend more time with their kids.
This is especially relevant to single mothers, who do statistically spend fewer hours on average with our kids than married moms (though, fascinatingly, working moms and SAHMs spend similar numbers of hours with offspring). Every few years when Pew releases the latest time-use findings, and we see once again that single moms spend just 15 hours per week with their kids compared with 20 hours spent by married moms, we all secretly sigh a #sadtrombone. Because the rule in modern mothering is: More time is more.
No more, ladies.
If you really miss your kids and believe truly that both them and you would benefit from more time together – knock yourself out. Make that happen, at whatever cost. But if you feel the pressure to be near your kids for many more hours than either of you wants to, because our culture tells you that the better mother devotes herself to constant, helicoptering frontal lobe development until the kid finally leaves home at age 28, you have my permission to dismiss that guilt. You have my permission to create your own schedule that works for you and your family.
And for most of us, that likely means working more, and mothering less.
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