Science! Time Spent with Children

I think this qualifies as Science! because lots of people will decide it’s true and look at you funny (at best) if you disagree:

Parents now spend twice as much time with their children as 50 years ago. Except in France. From the Economist.

There are pretty charts showing time spent with children by mothers and fathers across decades and cultures, from 1965 to 2012. Also work University education into the mix. Nice smooth curves, too – that’s the way progress works, after all, it just smoothly moves us into a better future without any hiccups.

OK, let’s count the ways this is nonsense:

1. What does time spent with their children mean? Does it mean the same thing in France in 1965 as in the US in 1992 as in Japan in 2012? From family to family? How would you know this? Am I spending time with my children if the family sits down together for dinner? What if the TV is on at the same time? Does an hour at dinner with wine, conversation and manners count the same as an hour during which people come and go, watch TV or work on homework at the same time? And on and on. This issue alone renders the entire exercise meaningless.

2. What does University educated mean? Same thing in the US in 1965 as in Italy in 2012? How would we know? Is it self reported? Barber college count?

3. Methodology consistent across time and space? Double-blind observation on thousands of subjects validated against clearly defined categories?  (Not likely.) Or a variety of surveys relying on self-reporting by self-selected (those willing to take the survey) subjects? Or what? Because if you measure one group one way and another another way, all bets are off.

4. Self reporting biases: Are they dealt with somehow? Because I’d bet they’re in there. Do French parent feel like spending too much time with their kids makes them old-fashioned or otherwise looked down on by their peers? Did Danes come to some sudden realization after 1965 that the parenting methods of Lief Erikson lead to lopping off heads and slaughtering monks, which had lamentably gone out of fashion, so they switched it up? Or what?

And then you combine these issues, and you get more problems. Dads in the US, for example, have certainly been shamed into spending time with kids in traditional motherly ways since 1965. Having kids hang around while you chop wood or fix the Chevy – does that count? As much as changing their diapers or fixing them dinner?

I, for one, will be very skeptical of claims that modern moms and dads find more time to be with their kids than people in the bad old days. Getting horribly cynical here: They’re clearly taking time out from looking for husband #3 or drinking in the hookup bars with their buddies to arrange their days around custody schedules. Or maybe custody schedules are the sole drivers, here? I spend more net time with the kids and step kids because I’m stuck with one set while my spouse is visiting the other set? Does time spent in court or with lawyers count?

Seriously: nothing can or should be made of fluff like this. Therefore, one should expect to be accused of being anti-science if one rejects it.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

6 thoughts on “Science! Time Spent with Children”

  1. Two hours a day– driving them to their carefully scheduled events, while they stream videos….

    I suppose the US could be mangled by over-sampling home schoolers, in theory. I spend all day, every day, with my kids.

    Reality wise, when my eldest was born it was accepted as a matter of course that she’d be in day-care and I was cautioned to try to avoid it until at least three months of age.
    Three. Months. Old.

    The not-quite-a-year kid has only been away from me for like an hour and a half, and that was with family!

    1. Exactly. Our kids were with either mom or me pretty much 24/7 for at least a couple years.

      Daycare is how we prepare our kids emotionally for the day they decide to dump us in a nursing home.

      1. None of my ancestors in our recorded history was ever placed in a nursing home. At least so far. My father is 92 and lives in his own home, suffering regular visits by his eldest son and being driven to doctors’ appointments by his eldest daughter-in-law. His neighbor is my cousin (one of them) and one of his brothers and two sisters live two blocks down the street.

        His father died in a hospital under treatment for emphysema and his mother died at home cared for by her unmarried daughter. His grandfather died at the home of his thrice-married daughter after suffering a double amputation of his legs. She would pick him up and carry him into the toilet and set him down; then pick him up afterward, and he was not a small man. His great-grandfather did not have the opportunity, since he was crushed between two coal cars in the railroad repair yards while still in his prime. Similar remarks hold for my mother’s family.

      2. A wonderful and human tradition. My mother in law lives with us now, cared for by her eldest daughter (my wife). My father, sad to say, did die in a nursing home – dementia + distance made it seem impossible, Part of that is the kids not scattering to the winds. Mom lived at home until about 12 hours before she died.

        When we had the house remodeled a dozen years ago, put in handicapped friendly bars and handles in the back bathroom across from a bedroom, with elder care in mind. So far, MIL is the only one to use it.

        The elderly and infirm suffer and need our care so that we may love them.

      3. Out here in the DC vortex, the expectation is that your child go immediately into daycare. There are some that advertise they take children as young as one month old. Waiting lists are so long, that, in some cases, you need to get your child on the list prior to conception.

        And they wonder why children don’t care for their parents.

    2. I’ve also seen reports about the importance of eating meals together where any attempt at all – stuff was put on the table at a one time, family members grabbed what they wanted and wandered off – counted as a family meal. I shoot for minimum of 3 dishes (main, side, fresh veggie) and we all sit down, say a blessing, and eat and chat.

      Yet both counted as ‘eating meals together’. One introduces and reinforces a culture, one does not.

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