Grace Essen: How much time is too much to spend with kids?

Grace Essen: How much time is too much to spend with kids?

Monday, December 14, 2015 4:27 pm


Grace Essen

Grace Essen

Grace Essen

We are all too familiar with this parenting message of our time: More time with your kids is more. Mothers everywhere are told directly and indirectly: The stay-at-home mom is the better mom. The underlying message being: If you work outside the home, your children suffer.

If you are like me and the majority of mums, and you work outside the home, it is almost impossible to avoid the guilty and stress that comes as a result of this message. So many mums have cut short their careers, closed businesses, and many others have decided to not bother job hunting owing to this same ideal. And so, we dutifully spend or should I say, struggle to spend more time with our kids and feeling frustrated doing so.

I stumbled upon a new finding recently which confronts and totally contradicts this prevalent parenting message. The University of Maryland study found that the pressure to spend so much quality time with children stresses mums out so much that it may actually make us worse parents, than if we just focused our time on making more money and less time on frontal-lobe development and deep connection with our children. Because, guess what? It doesn’t matter that much how much time you spend with your kids!

The authors found that the pressure to spend so much quality time with our children means all of us -working and stay-at-home mums schedule both professional and personal time around our children’s activities to maximize this presumed critical time together at the detriment to all parties’ emotional wellbeing. 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. This is stunning in itself, isn’t it? Though more interesting data are to follow.

This report might just liberate working mums – by that I mean those working outside the home, who have had to battle the guilt the most, oh what a sweet relief. Now where does that leave the stay-at-home mum? While this might seem like one group has scored a point against the other, I would rather not subscribe to either side of the divide. Why? Simple. Research reports come up all the time, and when we think we have what’s ideal today, another comes up tomorrow to say what we all thought was the ideal is no longer so.

I would rather every mum makes the decision – to stay home or work outside the home, based on her unique circumstances rather than some finding or report. Circumstances differ and so are the decisions we have to make to deal with them. I have been at both ends – a working mum and a stay-at-home mum. The circumstances that led to being a stay-at-home mum were based on personal and family needs at the time which required my undivided attention; no research report could have made me think otherwise.

When serious situations bothering on health and well being of the family are involved, it is always best to make decisions in the best interest of the entire family. Mums need not feel bad if they have to stay home with their children, when the society or researchers think otherwise.

However, mums need to be sure that when they decide to stay home, they are not holding back due to other personal issues they need to deal with such as fear, anxiety, poor self esteem and self confidence. Except if our children are still babies – needing to be nursed, there is really no need to be with them 24/7. Staying around our children all the time can actually be counterproductive.

Their sense of expression and independence could be inhibited when at every turn they see mama’s pair of eyes on them. I remember the first few days after I quit my day job, my kids were very happy to have me home with them, but soon after, my son, 5, asked: “Mum, when are you going back to work?” My jaw dropped!

Look at it this way: if we are not there, our children would survive anyway. They need us no doubt, but I’m not sure they need us the way we presume they do, like they need us to breathe. If they needed us that much, I’m sure nature would have made it that we would still have them in the womb. By spending all our time with them, we deprive them of the other side of us they would love to see and be proud of – women who are living their dreams and being all they ever wanted to be.

However, like all things in life, there has to be a balance. When we have spent the greater part of the day away from home, and we have little time left to spend with our children, let’s not spend it hounding, criticizing, scolding, yelling… instead let’s spend it bonding with them and making up for ‘lost’ time, that to me is spending quality time with our children.

What’s your thought?

You may reach Grace via email: [email protected] You can also follow her on twitter @GraceEssen, on Facebook, and also follow her blog @Mum2MumAfrica.com.

Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harc


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