The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

Parenting with Heart & Soul: Parents Are Spending More Time with the Kids

Posted in soulfish by Juliet on April 6, 2010

As New York Times health writer Tara Parker Pope discusses in her “Well” blog, a new study by Garey and Valerie A. Ramey, married economists at UC San Diego, found that parents are spending more time with their kids.

Let me be the contrarian spoiler who says this is not a good thing.

This study separated out time spent “in the vicinity” of children (e.g. Mom cooking dinner while the kids play in another room; Dad pays bills while the kids watch TV) and only counted actual hands-on time spent raising the kids.

In the past thirty years, this time has increased dramatically. According to the study, a lot of the growth in time women spend with the kids is directly correlated to declines in time spent doing housework (which women used to spread out over the course of many hours, interspersed with coffee with a neighbor, reading a magazine, watching the soaps, talking on the phone, chatting over the back fence, etc.)

The question this study doesn’t answer (or even ask) is: are people better off now than they were before? And are they better as people?

We’re spending more time than ever on the kids. Are they actually turning out better?

Because we’re doing it at our own expense. While this study shows that parents spend more time with kids, other studies show that married couples raising young kids are less happy! We are exhausted, for one thing. We aren’t watching soaps, chatting over the back fence, or sharing coffee and a danish with a friend. We aren’t doing adults-only hobbies like golf, tennis, or bowling.

We also aren’t carving out adults-only married couple time for going to dinner with the neighbors or sitting on the patio with a glass of wine.

We are Parenting as a verb and it’s wearing us out.

We aren’t happy, and when we aren’t happy, we don’t raise happy kids. We raise kids as tense and stressed out as we are.

The irony is, it’s not even better for the kids, since I don’t see kids as better off for all our efforts.

Valerie Ramey was a guest on NPR’s Talk of the Nation today and she elaborated on the study results (which she calls “The Rugrat Race.”) Not surprisingly, the biggest growth category of “spending time with kids” is chauffering them to and from activities and waiting on the sidelines while the game or class takes place.

The past 25-30 years has brought a fundamental shift in how kids play. That is…they don’t. There are kids in my daughter’s third grade class in our safe suburban town who have never, not a single time, gone outside to play.

Ironically, most of my fellow parents believe they need to live this way because the world is a more dangerous place than when we were kids, but they are wrong. Kids today are actually very safe – in fact much safer than in the 1970s when I was allowed to roam free throughout the neighborhood with a giant mixed-age and mixed-sex pack of kids.

Kids should play with other kids. They should play with their toys. They should spend hours exploring the backyard, the park, the neighborhood, as a pack. Play should be organic. It should not be an endless loop of supervised shuttling from Gymboree class to playdate to gymnastics to karate to tutoring.

I see parents playing with their kids at the park. Sit on the benches and enjoy the sun while the kids run around and play with each other! Read a magazine. Talk to the other grownups.

It’s ridiculous to play FOR our kids like I see so many people trying to do.

Another San Diego based researcher, Dr Jean Twenge of San Diego State, has extensively studied the sense of entitlement and lack of self-help skills this next generation has. Correlated? Maybe. Related? Perhaps. Something to think about? Definitely.

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