Bryan Caplan  

Listen to the Children

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Here's a deeply important passage from my favorite survey of the time diary literature:

One of Galinsky's more surprising findings centered around a question she posed to both children and parents: "If you were granted one wish to change the way your mother's/your father's work affects your life, what would that wish be?" Some 56 percent of parents anticipated that their children would want more time with their parents and for their parents to spend less time at work, yet only 10 percent of the children actually wanted more time with their mothers and only 16 percent wanted more time with their fathers. A far larger proportion, 34 percent, wished that their mothers would be less stressed and less tired, and 28 percent wished this about their fathers.
My interpretation: Spending time with our kids has become a chore because we're doing so much of it. Even if you put on a fake smile, your kid can sense if you're not really happy to be with him.

The upshot: If you really don't want to do something with your kid, think twice about doing it. If you're going to be a grump about it, he'd probably prefer not to do it either. It might sound like a convenient rationalization, but it's true.


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COMMENTS (7 to date)
Joe Bingham writes:

I have a different interpretation: "quality time" with parents sucks compared to just having them around. I mean, a kid whose mom doesn't stay home doesn't wish that they'd "spend more time together" because that question implies "quality time." If they asked "do you wish your mom was home more" they'd probably get a different answer.

The good thing about having my mom at home wasn't that I got to go to more baseball games or zoos (although I did), it was that I got a heck of a lot more attention on demand (unscheduled) from a mom who wasn't worn out from work already.

Mason writes:

I think we can do better than that.

How about: Listen to your children.

Then you don't need to try and figure out where you and your kids are relative to the average.

Rob Sperry writes:

I would expect that the amount of time a kid would want to spend with thier parents is a strong function of the kids age, and the age's where they most want the time is when they are the least able to verbaly express it and respond to survey questoins.

Les writes:

I think there's an unstated assumption here, that people with careers can simply choose how many hours a week to work.

But if one is a 30-something professional (the age when one's kids are in preschool or elementary school) one is most likely expected to put in 40-50 hours a week, just to meet the employer's expectations, and the option to work say 25 or 30 hours a week is simply not available without being fired.

So, with few options about how hard to work, the discussion of doing less work seems moot.

Roberto writes:

For parents that work a normal job (9-5, monday-friday) They are home in plenty of time for their kids because kids don't get home from school until about 4:00. So being home without their parents for 1-2 hours is no big deal. However, when their parents get home the kid wants to play.

Boys want to play catch and girls want to play house, or whatever. The time factor is not a time problem for parents, the problem is they just spent 8 hours at work, they want to come home and sit down in front of the tv. They are too tired to play with their kids, but they would love to lay on the couch and watch tv together.

Steve Horwitz writes:

I'll take a different read on this. Parents think they should be spending all kinds of time with their kids because they highly overrate the importance of their own influence on their kids' future success. I'm not saying parenting isn't important, it is. It's much more important in the "macro" picture of providing a resources, values, and stability in the home. It's much less important in the moment-to-moment time we spend with them.

Too many parents view their children as extensions of themselves, where the children's successes and failures are really reflections of the parents' ability. Thus we "must" spend every moment with our children, ensuring that they have every nano-unit of our attention and support. If we don't, our children will, this argument suggests, fail or at least not live up to some hypothesized potential, and that means WE will have failed as parents.

We now have a generation of parents attempting to raise "trophy children" and it's not only cranking out children who can do little for themselves, it's also making mom and dad's life needlessly stressful, and thus doing the same for kids.

Bob writes:

Yesterday, the missus went to see her mom out of town, and I stayed home with the 12 year old kid. Because all of her friends were busy doing mom stuff and the weather was awful, she and I pretty much stayed in the house all day together. But I bet we only spoke a dozen words to each other and spent no more than a few minutes in the same room. We did go out to dinner together. But I'm sure she'd say it was a good day "with dad".

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