Quantity Time

Despite the fact parents, especially highly educated parents, have sharply increased time with their kids since the early 1990’s, a guest blogger on the Motherlode blog suggests that we spend less time with our kids.

Laura Vanderkam writes that she used to rush through her work day, spending only 40 hours at her job, in order to spend time with her kid, but then she found out that that extra hour in the office was really productive.

But in my zeal to be efficient, I noticed that I’d stopped doing
things that maybe weren’t the wastes of time they appeared to be. I
love to write fiction, but I wasn’t reading any fiction — and hence not
picking up new ideas to improve my craft. I didn’t spend much time
surfing the web, but that made it harder to come up with story ideas…. Periodically though, I’d be a little inefficient — and be amazed at
the results. A quote from Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto turned out to be
perfect for something I was writing. A casual mention of a project at a
PR event led to just the source I needed. I’d give myself an hour to
daydream and would come up with a column idea.

So, she says that she's going to be less efficient with her paid work and more efficient with her time with her kid. She might only have an hour with the kid, but she was going to make it a damn good hour.

If a guy told me that, I would tell him that he was an asshole and to stop hanging out with the guys after work, even though it might be good for his career, and go spend time with his family. So, lady, spend time with your kids!

I'm sure that it is really good for your career to put in 50 hours, instead of 40. But I'm not buying the quality time with the kid thing. Look, people have to work. I get it. Not everybody can be at home full time and, after a certain age, no kid really needs to see their parents every single minute of every single day. But they do need to see a parent for a little while. And if you can spend five hours a day with them, as opposed to one hour, that's a good thing.

It's not a guarantee, but, in general, the more time that you are parenting, the better you will be at it. It's a skill. I would rather have a dentist who practiced his art for five hours a day, rather than a dentist who worked for one hour.

The author speaks of the benefits of quantity time at her job; the same goes for parenting. Sometimes just spontaneous, unplanned moments with the kids are the best ones. You sit around and things happen.

If you've been working that many hours, odds are that you're tired, stressed out, and your mind has not checked out of the office. You're looking at your blackberry and writing down notes for the next day. Your brain isn't at the playground with the rest of your body and the kid.

Other benefits of spending time with your kid come from the comment section at Freakonomics:

HH writes, "Recent research has demonstrated quite conclusively that children who spend more time with their parents are far less likely to get into serious drugs and other self-destructive behaviors."

34 thoughts on “Quantity Time

  1. The author speaks of the benefits of quantity time at her job; the same goes for parenting.
    This is so obviously true that it honestly astounds me how many people manage to–I think, on some level or another, purposively–blind themselves to it. How many anecdotes, how many studies, how much life experience, does a person need to recognize that, nine times out of ten, a child and family life in general is not going to be nearly as well served by a limited amount of high-end (perhaps carefully planned, perhaps expensive) “quality time” as by simple, day-in and day-out “being there” time? The stability and regularity of a parent being there in the morning, a parent helping the kid with the chores, a parent taking a kid to the park, a parent tucking a kid in at night…this isn’t rocket science. Yet so many people continually tell themselves otherwise. Idiots, all of them.

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  2. I work. I would work much more than I do, if I didn’t have kids. I am constantly counting hours and figuring out ways to be more efficient in order to do everything that I want to do. But one should have one’s priorities in order.

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  3. Hmm, I just read this differently. I didn’t feel like she was arguing for the “quality time on the weekends” approach I used to hear from my consulting colleagues. And she is not advocating going out for drinks with the guys after work. (Or was that a reference to her once-a-week outside event goal?) What I heard was just find the balance that’s right for you, and that may include some work-related time that’s not overtly task-oriented.

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  4. I just reread the article to make sure I got it right, jen. She is advocating for more time in the office, because those hours make a difference in your career. I’m sure that’s true.
    My husband used to be under a lot of pressure to drink with his colleagues after work on the grounds that it was networking and that it was good for his career. (Thankfully, he has a better boss now and that pressure isn’t happening anymore.) But I really needed him home to help out and the kids hadn’t seen him all day. That hour in the bar may have been good for his career, but bad for us.
    I’m not opposed to the quality time notion. Steve has to use that method of parenting, because during the week, he only sees the kids for two hours a day. But it’s really hard on him. And me. I have to pick up the slack with the chores during the week. He gets no time to himself. I’m frazzled and tired when he comes home. The kids are needy. But he has to work that crazy job to pay the mortgage, so that’s the way it is. Is it optimal? I don’t think so.
    She also misreads some statistical information. She says, “The average mom who is not in the workforce and whose youngest kid is under age six, spends less than six hours per week playing or doing hobbies with her kids, and just over two hours reading or doing educational activities.”
    OK, control for SES and you’ll see a much higher amount of time. Even then, I take the kids with me when I do the food shopping. We may not be having a one-on-one moment, but I’m talking with them and they’re putting waffles in the shopping cart and it’s good stuff.

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  5. But some of the things she mentions don’t have to be done AT WORK, do they? I mean, reading fiction, daydreaming – you could do those at the pool or during homework time – the times when you are present but not having to be 100% engaged all the time in child interaction.

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  6. I totally agree that she mentions getting ahead. But she also seems to be saying, don’t drive yourself so much either at work or in parenting. Cut yourself some slack; don’t insist on being efficient at all times. It takes all the fun out of everything, and in the long run actually has its own costs.
    I just find it really interesting that I had such a different response from Laura and RAB!

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  7. But wasn’t she arguing to be less efficient at work, but more efficient at home? Spend more time looking for inspiration for work by surfing the web and daydreaming and just use your remaining hours with the kids really well? I would rather be efficient with my work hours and more inefficient with my kid time.

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  8. I read it not as her arguing for “efficiency” at home, per se, but rather being more balanced overall and thus savoring her home time more.
    Here’s what is at the heart of my response. As a working mom I sometimes feel oppressed by the requirement to be There for the Kids at every moment. It’s basically, work yourself to death at your desk all day long, then sprint home and be there for the kids. BTW the fact that you sprinted home means all your hard work at the office will be totally ignored. And at home the fact that you aren’t perfectly toned and coiffed like the SAHMs will be held against you. Given this context, I am not surprised to hear someone say she reserves the right to not be efficient every moment at work, especially if it’s keeping her from being passed over career-wise. And to also say, I’m not going to feel guilty because when I *am* home, I’m more present, saner and more balanced. This to me resonates. Frankly it comes across as advice on self-care for the working mom.
    If I’m correctly understanding your perspective, Laura, you hear her as saying, “Go ahead and buy into the specious scrip called quality time. Your spouse will pick up the slack and the kids will live.” You relate strongly to the spouse who is forced to pick up this slack all the time, and you can’t believe anyone could still discuss “quality time” with a straight face.
    As much as I could relate to Vanderkam’s call for balance and less of a “slave to efficiency” mentality at work, I found myself reacting to the line about her seeing her son only three nights during the work week. I try to avoid the pattern so many women have of judging other women who choose a different balance, but I would never accept an increase in hours that kept me away from dinnertime two nights a week. Nor would I ever be confused enough about reality to think you can subtract work and sleep from the total hours in the week, and assume the remainder is leisure time. In my mind, however, that does not nullify Vanderkam’s whole argument. I think there’s a kernel in there that’s right — there’s something to be said for not trimming all the fat out of your workday, for avoiding the American obsession with Adding Value.

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  9. I read it more like Jen did, and also as a personal observation about the way she works and parents and not as an exhortation that one should, in general, work more and spend less time with kids.
    Laura Vanderkam works for herself, and she’s working 50 hours a week, not 80. Also, some of her work hours occur after her child’s in bed. Her argument is, I think, that she shouldn’t guilt herself down to 40 when 50 is the right balance for her (and is worth it to her in productivity, however one reads that term). The time she spends with her kid doesn’t sound particularly “efficient”–sliding down the sliding board, shopping at fruit vendors, watching puppies at doggy daycare. Her point was that she uses and enjoys the time more than she might if she had more of it (ie, she might resort to videos more to fill up the time). And working 50 hours a week in Vanderkam’s context leaves about 9 or 10 hours a day to spend with the kid, which hardly sounds like neglect. She’s lucky to have work she loves and the flexibility to spend time with her kid without much of a sacrifice to her career.
    Like you were saying in your other post, Laura, people often get very invested in the route they’ve chosen, and read everyone else’s different choice as an indictment of their own.

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  10. “And at home the fact that you aren’t perfectly toned and coiffed like the SAHMs will be held against you.”
    I’m pretty sure that would get you smacked if my wife read this blog.

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  11. But, Suze, she said that she doesn’t have 9 or 10 hours with the kid per day. She has other stuff to do, like exercise. She said that she has three hours with the kid a day. I assume that most of that time is spent feeding the kid and cleaning the kitchen, since that’s what my husband does, it really leaves 1 hour.
    I didn’t think that she was saying that she was exhorting other people to spend more time at work. Never said that. But she was pooh-poohing the pressure to get home after work. And I am pooh-poohing her.
    I have always been a strong proponent of quantity time with kids, whether I’ve had paid employment or not.

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  12. At least, I’d get smacked if I ever said anything that seemed to indicate her hair should have been fixed nicer since she had all day at home. Especially with the start of potty training.

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  13. I like jen, so I’m not going to smack her. But her comment made me go to the bathroom and put my contacts in. I don’t get dressed up when I’m working at home. When I go into work, I have de-frizzed hair and a Banana Republic skirt.

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  14. Doug — Ha. I read her blog today. She’s got another one coming. She’s trying to be the guru of time management. I hope she blogs about how 2 kids really f*ck up neat, little time charts. She must hire lots and lots of help.

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  15. And the transition to zone defense from man-to-man as you go from two to three. Then I’ll send over Doug and Claudia Muir from their various blogs, because they have four …

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  16. “And at home the fact that you aren’t perfectly toned and coiffed like the SAHMs will be held against you.”
    Hee hee hee!

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  17. Obviously she’s in for a bit of a learning experience as she transitions to having two kids at home, but when the youngest is around 3 or so, it really does help to automatically have another child at home for the first one to play with.

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  18. I am so sorry to have offended people with my SAHM comment! My only defense is that this truly is my reality. (Best to stop talking now.)

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  19. It’s okay, jen. You don’t have to stop talking here.
    I have a mommy war post on the backburner that I’ll trot out at some time. My former stance was that there is no tension between moms who earn a paycheck and those that don’t. My former position was that it was a media construct, but I’ve revised that position of late. If I can figure out how to write a post that doesn’t offend anyone, I’ll do it.

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  20. Perfectly toned and coiffed SAHM is a class issue, not a mommy war issue. Live in an economically diverse community, and you won’t have to deal with the trophy wife expectation.

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  21. Laura, I’d love to read your mommy war post. As a former SAHM, WAHM, and current WOHM considering SAHM, I’m just plain interested. 🙂

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  22. Last night I asked my husband about this conversation — and how surprised I was that an offhand description of my reality was perceived as such an attack on at-home parents. (Did I mention that my own husband is an at-home parent?) He basically threw up his hands and said, it must be different where they live.
    There seems to be an assumption here that the people judging me for not being toned and coiffed are the *other moms*. While I suppose that’s sometimes true, it’s more often in the form of just becoming totally invisible to much of the world. Try flagging down a waiter when you’re a frumpy lady in her 40s. Or getting some help at Nordstrom’s. On and on it goes.
    FWIW I don’t feel particular tension between at-home moms and paycheck moms. Most of the time when stuff like that surfaces, IMHO, it’s just a mid-life manifestation of long-running personal dislikes similar to soccer jocks vs. choir geeks.

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  23. That is a whole different world. Soccer is so limited to small children that I’ve never seen ‘soccer’ used as the modifier of ‘jocks’. We do have a Nordstroms (just last year).

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  24. Laughing out loud! Well, yes, at Nordstrom’s it would be an issue not to be perfectly coiffed and toned. But at Target, I can promise you that everyone gets ignored equally, regardless of appearance.

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  25. “Or getting some help at Nordstrom’s.”
    What is the world coming to? Impeccable customer service to all comers was what originally allowed Nordstrom’s to take the US by storm. I think I remember seeing a story (maybe in the Seattle P.I. in the 80s or 90s?) describing a Nordstrom’s salesperson giving the full customer service treatment to a bag lady.

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  26. Yeah, I’m with Amy. I pretty frumpy, and haven’t noticed any problem getting service at Nordstroms’. Of course, I’m brown, so I might be getting attention for another reason — but I still get help when I want it, so I’m not complaining.
    Have you tried carrying an appropriate status accessory (i.e. a status hand bag). That might be enough to get people who want your money to pay attention.
    I once sent my husband to a Gymboree class with my daughter, and he came back freaked out about the women (stepford moms, though I guess the correct term around here is “yummy mummy”) he met there. I felt bad about having sent my perfectly reasonable looking sister in law — who watched my daughter there, and then understood why she’d asked me why I’d picked that particular Gymboree.

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  27. My daughter and I have been to Nordstrom’s three times in the last 2 years, and we’ve always had superb service. The store is new, though.

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  28. I grew up with a single mom who fervently believed exactly what you’re saying, Laura– it takes quantity time to be a good parent. She was a public schoolteacher (before she retired) and I know she passed up second jobs and chances at administration jobs because she felt it would take too much time away from us at home. Certainly for me, it applies as well, but I am more privileged than she was in that way because I have a partner, and it’s easier for us to trade off and tag-team.

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  29. Here’s a theory: those of us who have always been of roughly average appearance don’t register a shift in treatment as we get older (except for getting ma’amed a bit more) while women who are of above average appearance may feel it keenly since they’ve gotten used to certain perks. I suspect that this may explain the variation in reports of treatment while out and about.

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  30. I’m no trophy wife, but the only time I’ve had a problem getting service anywhere was when I was pushing a stroller or dragging a toddler or two around. There was definite disdain for small children, no matter how well behaved. They didn’t want my money, they wanted me gone.
    At Nordstrom’s I’m so busy laughing at the price of the boots I’m looking at that I probably couldn’t hear offers of help. Seriously though, I visit the Nordies in downtown Portland a couple of times a year, and get plenty of offers of help. I have neither a nice handbag or well coiffed hairstyle. I’m middle-aged, middle-classed and show it. They still want my money and ask how they can help me spend it.

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