“I am in a very busy phase of life– mother, working part-time, writing a blog, building a house and teaching classes at the gym. I’m so thrilled to be working but also find myself feeling guilty about not being as present with my kids. I was wondering if quality of interaction is better than quantity. I find that since I have less time, I’m happier and more engaged when I am with the kids and since I’m a happier parent, that’s got to be better, right?!”
– Sarah R. Bagley (Check out her blog & podcast– http://www.sarahrosemary.com/)
Yes! Quality time can be more beneficial than quantity time. In a perfect world, parents would never need the money or sanity that comes from working and would never experience the stress, loneliness and boredom that comes with parenting and thus never act like stressed, bored, lonely and annoyed parents. As a perfect world does not exist, it can be better to seek honest, real solutions rather than fight to maintain the perfect ideal that cannot be realized by anyone. (See Intelligent Nest, LLC article Superparent v. Mean Mama for more on this discussion.) Life is busy, whether by choice or by circumstance, and priorities must be set and decisions must be made in accordance with all these considerations and how you personally attack this question is really more philosophical than scientific.
In the interest of satisfying those with more empirical sensibilities, let’s quickly summarize the current beliefs in the scientific community on the topic. Studies are overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that kids become good kids by the efforts of nature and nurture. It is impossible and inadvisable to try to nurture a child such that you make him or her become your ideal child. Culturally, we forget this fact and tend to over-parent our children fueled by good intentions and the reporting of scientific data. (For more to defend this claim, see Intelligent Nest article Entertainer-in-Chief.) And sometimes we also feel obligated and naturally drawn to do more for our children than is actually helpful and necessary. (See The Death of Mama Bear for more information).
Assuming these statements are true, there is certainly room for us to take a step back, breathe and reconsider our philosophy of parenting and thereby reevaluate our parental duties and perspectives. This can be challenging for some because parenting obligations and duties can be seen as unchanging and sacred. For some parents, being present and available at every moment of the day is not only desirable, but it is also a moral obligation. Leaving children with non-family members frequently can be interpreted as a failure to fulfill an essential parental duty. You will encounter vocal people with this philosophy and you may be tempted to feel guilty as a result. Instead, I advise you to smile politely, end the conversation with tact and then forget it ever happened. Let them carry the weight of that philosophy as I assure you there is NO reason that you need to do so as well.
The way to find balance between quality and quantity parenting is to consciously seek it with an open mind considering that no two children or parents are same. Research studies can tell us generally, on average, how well kids do in daycare, home and other environments, how average mothers and fathers adjust to parenthood, generally what makes people feel happy, etc.., but scientific data in journals and magazines cannot tell us about how you or your child specifically will fair. You have to experiment with new work and home arrangements and carefully observe your children (allowing 1-4 weeks for transition stress) and family dynamics.
1) How are each of my children fairing? Do they seem happy, stressed, clingy, irritable, elated, social, withdrawn, regressing, progressing, etc…? If you are trying to work more, but one of your children is becoming hysterical and clingy then you have your answer. Be ready to make a hard, self-sacrificial choice (if feasible). Keep in mind too that some children prefer a more social life-style and do better in a preschool/daycare environment. If your child shows you that they need a little space from you, then be ready to accept that a full-time stay-at-home parent might not suit their needs either. If one child is doing well in the new arrangement and the other isn’t, be ready to make a compromise that balances everyone’s needs and in doing so, be careful to not assume your “tough” child is OK and your needy child is necessarily upset. Look past your preconceived notions of your children and really examine their behavior without bias. Be ready to accept hard truths.
2) Ask how are you and your spouse are doing? As your question pointed out, sometimes a little break can go a long way in terms of being able to offer quality parenting time. Aim to devote, without fail, at least 30 minutes of time to your child each day with no phones, dishes, work or other distractions. This 100% attention can go a LONG way and can be better than an entire day spent with the child where you are irritable, busy and absorbed in other tasks (laundry, computer work, cleaning, etc…). Parenting is not easy and will require sacrifice, but it shouldn’t make you feel too crazy (a little bit of crazy if OK). If you’re feeling suffocated, that isn’t good for your or your child. Take on more work outside the home, but be ready to give up opportunities if you see your child suffering as a result. Ideally, you should observe you and your child improving in a mutually beneficial arrangement. If you take on so much that you can’t think straight or look your child in the eye when talking to them, cut back on work until you feel sane, attentive and ready to get down on the floor to play and actually have fun daily.
I have been working on striking a balance between work and motherhood for years and I would love to hear from my readers! What works for you and your family? What successes or failures have your encountered? I have taken on so much work sometimes that I felt like a frazzled mess and have also turned down so much that boredom got the best of me and my kids suffered as a result. I’d love to learn from you. Please share your comments and suggestions below!