Are you an entrepreneur or a busy executive or professional? Do you have grade school-aged children? Chances are you feel guilty for not spending more time with them. But there's good news: It takes less time together than you may think to teach your kids the discipline they need to do well in school, or the lessons that will help them be happy and successful later in life.
"When we talk about kids behaving badly, we often blame the parents, specifically the mom," says Katherine Reynolds Lewis, who spent five years studying the most effective ways to help children learn for her book The Good News About Bad Behavior. "They say people are working too hard and not paying enough attention to their kids."
But, she says, the data tells a different story. Between 1966 and 2015, the percentage of mothers with school-aged children working outside the home rose from 41 percent to 71 percent. During that same period, the average amount of time mothers spent interacting with children rose from 10 hours a week to 15 hours a week. And the average amount of time dads spent with their kids nearly tripled, from 2 1/2 hours a week to 7 hours a week.
So in fact, as people have gotten busier, they're spending more time with their kids, not less. And in any case, good parenting may take less time than you think. "In 2015, the University of Michigan did a broad-ranging study where they looked at people's employment, income, health, emotional well-being, and education, and they found there was no association between time spent with parents when under the age of 12 and later achievement.
In other words, as parenting experts have been saying for a while, when it comes to spending time with your kids, quality trumps quantity. So how can you make the best use of the time you do spend with your kids? Here are Lewis' recommendations:
1. Avoid distracted parenting.
"We're all so distracted by our phones," Lewis says. That's bad, because we're not doing our children any good if we're physically with them but mentally elsewhere. So Lewis recommends some hard and fast rules about when you will and won't focus on your technology, stuch as: No phones at the dinner table, no phones between 6 pm and 8 pm, and a strict "bedtime" for phones. "We should be intentional and not say, I have 30 seconds free so I'm going to check my email," she says.
2. Instead of trying to make every minute special and memorable, make it about routine.
Too many parents try to make up for what they feel is too little time with their kids by attempting to make the time they do spend together extra-special as much as possible. So they try to fill that time with magical outings, special treats, or new and fun activities.
That's counterproductive, Lewis says, and the research backs her up. Quality time isn't about having memorable experiences, it's about foatrrming a strong connection with your children. And often the best way to create that connection is through everyday activities like making dinner or doing the laundry--even if it means pushing kids to help with chores when they would rather be having fun.
3. Don't abandon discipline.
"The other thing that happens is at the end of a long day you feel guilty for having been separated, so you give in when they ask for one more story or one more glass of water," Lewis says. "I've done it myself."
But you'll benefit your child more if you're consistent, Lewis says. "You have five minutes of cuddle time, or you always sing one song together. That way, they always know what to anticipate, and it helps them self-regulate. Don't be afraid to enforce rules."
4. Lighten up!
Oddly, your concern over bad parenting can actually make you a worse parent, Lewis says. "Stop feeling guilty!" she advises. "It doesn't help your child and it can lead you into bad habits. Be intentional when you're with your kids. Don't try to cram all your life lessons into a brief period of time, and don't expect it to always be perfect. Working through conflicts and tantrums together can bring you close even more than holding hands and skipping through a field of daisies. Parenting is messy, and it's supposed to be."