“Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.”
–Charles R. Swindoll
Although there might never seem to be enough time to do anything these days, new research suggests that parents are actually spending more time now with their children than they did back in 1965. Fathers’ time has nearly tripled from 2.6 hours a week spent with kids in 1965 to 7.2 in 2010. Mothers’ time with children rose from 10.5 hours a week to 13.7. How that time is spent appears to make all of the difference, at least from a cognitive standpoint.
A study published in the April issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family showed that the quality of time spent with mothers, not the quantity, was more strongly associated with cognitive outcomes and educational placement. In fact, time with parents was shown to be detrimental when working parents were physically but not mentally present for their children. These latest findings corroborate previous studies that reported that how mothers and fathers spend time with their children (over 1 year of age) matters more than the actual amount of time spent together.
Three simple rules:
Three simple rules for working parents to remember about family time include:
1) Make time: Schedules and/or daily routine and habits may require an adjustment phase.
2) Be mentally present: Children are extremely intuitive and will know immediately when a parent is inattentive. In addition to having detrimental effects on cognitive outcomes, a parent who is physically but not mentally present can be detrimental to a child in a multitude of other ways. Attentive parents connect with their children, are good listeners and convey love to their children.
3) Fill in the gaps: Children today are bombarded with information from many different directions, much of which is fueled by corporate interests as opposed to the best interest of children and families. Kids need parental guidance to sort all the information, fill in the missing gaps and make moral sense of it all.
Make the most of time with these essentials
After work, other activities loom, including homework, social events, sports, dinner, laundry, daily hygiene routine, prayer, preparation for the next day, and so on. Some of these activities can be done simultaneously while incorporating other essentials:
Reading: Read whatever they read, only read it together. Let them share their opinions about it. Read their writing. Read what they may not otherwise read, such as historical and religious texts or storybooks. Stories and lessons can be applied to their lives. Puppet shows or mini-plays can be fun to create, depending on the age group.
Gardening: Gardening provides a learning experience, food, a grounding effect, an opportunity for children to initiate conversation or to work together in comfortable silence. Gardening can be as small as a seed in a cup, or managing a whole garden or farm. More urban communities and schools now have gardens where children can be exposed to this essential element of life.
Shopping: Whether or not gardening is an option, grocery shopping affords the opportunity for both fun and learning, particularly the produce section. A fun game could be “eating the rainbow,” in which the goal is to eat something natural from all of the colors of the rainbow every day. Principles of budgeting and value shopping can be taught at the same time.
Cooking: An essential element of parenting and great fun as well, cooking provides quality family time and a chance to incorporate a garden-to-table mentality. Learning the art of healthy cooking and the science of baking are lessons that will last a lifetime, as will the memories made in the process.
Walking: Daily exercise is essential, and walking after dinner is a great opportunity for quality time. If the overall mood in the house is not conducive to quality time, taking a walk together provides a change of scenery.
Enjoying music: Music can do wonders. Playing or listening to music can help lift moods or turn mundane chores, such as dinner cleanup, into quality time. Warning: Spontaneous singing and dancing may occur!
Playing: Finding time to play together every day may not be realistic for everyone. But family play on a regular basis is essential because play is essential, and parents make excellent playmates. With play comes laughter, and the development of a sense of humor. Humor is also essential. Telling jokes, playing charades or board games, and shooting baskets are some examples.
Roundtable activities: Sitting around a table minimizes power struggles and can enhance cohesiveness. Artwork, homework, financial planning, brainstorming and other projects are suited to a roundtable approach. Including children in family finances can begin at an early age.
Although modern families face many challenges, spending quality time together is still possible for most. For working parents, making time to be physically and mentally present for their children is the priority. Spending quality time with the kids after work improves cognitive outcomes, opens educational opportunities and makes happy memories that will last a lifetime.
Written by Dana Connolly, Ph.D., Sovereign Health Group writer