How much time is enough?

Flea

Did you read that report a couple of weeks ago about how modern parents (you know it’s going to be bad when a report starts with THAT phrase) “only” spend 49 minutes a day with their children?

Apparently, modern parents are too busy worrying about money to spend quality time with their offspring, and the NSPCC is quoted in one report as saying that the most important childhood memories are all about being with your parents.

Oh dear.

I counted up and I think I spent 25 minutes with Flea yesterday. And that's including the five minutes I spent telling her all the things she wouldn't get to do this weekend if she didn't stop talking to her teddies and go to sleep at 9pm last night. Does it still count as quality time if you're making threats?

I'm sure I should feel horribly guilty about this wildly neglectful parenting, but frankly, I'm too busy. And also I'm not sure it's a good idea to spend too much time with your children. And I don't think they’re off weeping into their pillows and sobbing, “Why don’t Mummy and Daddy love me?”

And at the grand old age of four, Flea is mortified by the idea of spending time with me where other people might see her. “I do not need you watching me while I am in the bath,” she declares, so there’s 20 minutes of quality time down the plughole.

At school, I am instructed to walk her into school and all the way to her classroom door, but it is an unspoken agreement that once we have entered the school grounds, Flea will not acknowledge or speak to me in any way. I may not hold her hand, but I can carry her PE kit. However, if Flea sees one of her classmates, this entire arrangement is immediately null and void, and I must return to the car immediately, while she walks to the classroom with her friend.

In fact my life is one long round of, “Don't look, Mummy” or “I can do it myself, Mummy,” interspersed with the occasional, “Come and see what I did Mummy, it’s SO cool.”

I could feel bad about it, I suppose. But since reading Tom Hodgkinson’s The Idle Parent, I’ve resolved not to feel guilty about not spending so-called quality time with Flea. Hodgkinson argues that where most modern parents go wrong is actually spending too much time with their kids, hovering over their every activity and decision, always with one eye on the future. He recommends staying in bed, or turfing the kids outdoors, and letting them get on with it, as much as possible. 

I think he's right, and not just because it encourages my idle parenting tendencies. I also think Flea is so enjoying her new capabilities and independence at this age that I want to give her as many opportunities as I can to try them out, to see what she can do when she puts her mind to it. Also, while she's off exploring independent play, I get to watch Come Dine With Me, and imagine that the man who does the voiceover is going to be my second husband.

What do you reckon? How much time do you spend with your kids each day, and do you think it’s enough?

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

27 Comments

  1. 18th June 2010 / 12:52 pm

    I probably spend too much time with my children, but I completely agree with your point about letting them get on with things. My 5yr old walks the last bit to school on his own (no crossings) and I chuck both kids in the garden as often as I can. I do like doing things together, but I don’t feel the pressure to entertain them all the time.

  2. 18th June 2010 / 1:58 pm

    I think lately while I’ve not been working, my son and I have been spending too much time together, sometimes I think he gets bored of just me for company, and I’m looking forward to him starting nursery school in September, it will enable him to become much more independent. And Dave Lamb, the Come Dine With Me Narrator, yes if I could marry a voice it would be his…

  3. 18th June 2010 / 3:09 pm

    I think it’s not so much about NOT spending time with them really, but giving them space to discover the world themselves, perhaps. I guess we’re all trying to strike a happy medium. I do also find it makes it more fun when we are together.

  4. 18th June 2010 / 3:09 pm

    Yes, Flea adores me. Unless anyone under 10 is within a 10 mile radius. Then it’s like: “Oh, you? Still here?”

  5. MrsW
    18th June 2010 / 5:15 pm

    My kids can barely function on their own – I do my best to get away from them but they won’t bugger off an amuse themselves – you’d think by 13 and 15 they’d be able to find SOMETHING to do that they don’t want my approval for. I didn’t hover when they were little – I worked and they were in nursery for 6 hours a day so I’ve no idea where I went wrong 🙂

  6. 18th June 2010 / 6:44 pm

    This sentence from the article should make you feel MUCH better about things:
    “Of those girls who responded to the survey, 42% said they wished they could spend more time with their father but only 6% said they wished they could spend more time with mother.”
    So while your husband is spending quality time with flea, you can be chatting up Mr Come Dine with Me – perfect!

  7. 18th June 2010 / 10:16 pm

    I love the Idle Parent and think he has it spot on. Kids need loving but they don’t need supervising, which is so much of what parenting seems to be. Funnily enought when my kids were young I was always chucking them out and encouraging them to get on with it. My day a week with my grandson (4) tends to be much more hands on, perhaps too much so. He seems much more in need of my input (unless in the company of any under 10 year old). I wonder if I have created that particular rod for my own back. I might just need to think about that one.

  8. 18th June 2010 / 10:25 pm

    It is a very inspiring book, I’m currently giving it a second reading, but it start to make me think that children need less supervised activities and more time where they’re allowed to work things out for themselves. And I think the grandparent relationship is different – Flea becomes utterly helpless with my Mum – I think because she enjoys a bit of babying and being pammpered – maybe your grandson is the same?

  9. 18th June 2010 / 11:59 pm

    What a whole lot of rubbish. There’s other research that suggests that working parents are the best guarantee of children achieving well in life. And then there’s weekends – do the 16 hours a day I spent with daughter make up for the considerably less time during the week? Does her endless whining in the evening (which I have no influence on other than ignore, tell off, ask to speak with nice voice or she won’t get what she wants) void quality? It does for me.
    It’s as ever about balance. Better spend 30 minutes engaged with child than 16 hours without interaction. Other people also contribute to a child’s development and I really think giving opportunities such as nursery, creche, outdoor play etc is equally important.

  10. 19th June 2010 / 6:52 am

    When I am not moving house or working or doing housework. I will easily sit on the floor with them for a few hours a day. We have lunch together some days depending on how much I can cope with or I stick them in front of the TV and come on the computer for time out. We do a lot of day trips so I guess that is quality time again hours on end. Eliza is very independent and will go off and play in her room alone for 2-3 hours has done this since she was 12 months old. Jerry not so much very needy. But I am a full time (most of the time) SAHM so I guess it’s a little different to you where Flea is at school and you work long hours!

  11. 19th June 2010 / 11:37 am

    Very interesting post. We definitely spend a lot more time than that with our children – but they are very young. They also have time with friends and are happy to play independently for hours. It’s all about balance for sure.
    I have to say that my memories of my childhood are very happy because my parents spent a lot of quality family time with myself and my sister. Sunday was family day and we would always go for a walk, have dinner together, play games.
    Though I’m now living on the opposite side of the world to my dear folks, we are still extremely close.

  12. 19th June 2010 / 1:17 pm

    Yes, I definitely spend a lot of time with Flea on weekends, and during school holidays – during the week, she’s got less than 3 hours between getting home and bedtime, and realistically, she doesn’t want to spend that time with me EVERY night. Some days I might spend those three hours playing with her, but other days she has better things to do!

  13. 19th June 2010 / 1:18 pm

    Yes, I think once they start school you’re really limited to a couple of hours a day, and school-aged children don’t necessarily want to spend that much of their precious free time with boring old Mummy! *sob*

  14. 19th June 2010 / 1:20 pm

    It’s interesting because we did spent time with our parents as children, but I was one of four children and my most powerful memories are of playing with my friends and siblings. Certainly my parents would often drive us to the woods or the beach, and just turn us loose to play for the morning while they read a book at the picnic area or in the car!
    For Flea and I, she’s still a bit young for that but she definitely wants to be independent and NOT be watched, as I’ve found she gets quite inhibited if I’m watching her play imaginatively, for example. Far better to leave her to it.
    But yes, we do have definitely family times on weekends – I just wouldn’t say that at this age, she would want to spend more than 49 minutes a day, just with me!

  15. Jo
    19th June 2010 / 10:42 pm

    Its cheesy but isn’t it all about giving them the wings to fly, and always being there to dust them off and put them back on their feet again, if they happen to fall? if we can do it in 49 minutes a day then great!!
    I went away to school from about 11, really enjoyed coming home for weekends and holidays, but was glad to go back to school to see my friends.. i have a great relationship with my parents still, and i have some great memories. so i didn’t suffer for not spending the alloted 49 minutes a day!!
    I am deffinately going to try and develop the sense of independence in my little lad – but at the grand old age of 1, i really don’t think i could send him away to school!!
    Sally lover of the narrator of come dine with me – three words for you…
    Big Barn Farm!! its on cbeebies, its also narrated by your future second husband.. enjoy x

  16. 20th June 2010 / 1:02 pm

    I’m all for idle parenting but unfortunately in my extended family spending even a minute away from my children appears to be the equivalent of dropping them in a vat of boiling oil. I have had a *little* trouble
    Madeleine (3) is wonderfully independent at the moment, and Elliot (nearly 2) is getting there. I am not a people-person by nature and the whole ‘clinging to mummy’s leg like a little limpet’ thing was starting to do my head in, so this independent stage suits everyone just fine!
    Thanks for the heads up on the book – I’ll be buying that one for sure, if only to hit my mother-in-law over the head with it.

  17. 20th June 2010 / 1:05 pm

    Oops – the end of the first paragraph should have said “I have had a *little* trouble with my MIL, who seems to think that the 15 hrs a week I have to myself (to work) while they are at nursery is basically neglect. Apparently the poor children will never flourish if I don’t hover over them and spend at least 11 hours a day holding their hands. Argh! ”

  18. Nikki
    20th June 2010 / 10:20 pm

    Love the post Sally. After rising at 5:50 this morning with the nearly 5 yr old (to give hubbie a lie in on Fathers day and keeping the 3 yr old asleep) and spending time doing tickles, making words out of blocks and doing lazytown jigsaws and then all of us going off to Legoland to pick up our annual passes (god love tesco and sainsbury’s points) and staying nearly all day, coming home and cooking a roast dinner and playing with the kids in the garden, I’m wondering if I get time off in leiu now for the sheer number of hours put in today? PMSL!!!! I suspect not.
    :-)) Great weekend though….
    Nikki x

  19. 20th June 2010 / 11:05 pm

    I think it’s great you had such a positive experience with going away to school – I think it must be so tough on parents but all my friends who went away to school loved it and seem to get along better with their folks than I do!
    I don’t think I could bring myself to watch cbeebies, it might kill my crush.

  20. 20th June 2010 / 11:06 pm

    Oh, Flea DEFINITELY had that clingy stage. I remember when we moved away from Brighton and the Nanny I thought I would go insane at not even having 30 seconds to myself. I must admit, I like this phase so much better!

  21. 20th June 2010 / 11:07 pm

    I bow at your feet – that’s some SERIOUS maternal dedication, right there x

  22. jo
    21st June 2010 / 11:44 am

    lol glad u didn’t waste any time on cbeebies – turned it on yesterday to a different narrator!! they must have guest narrators!!
    it was very off putting i kept expecting him to start on about the pigs cooking skills!!

  23. Nikki
    21st June 2010 / 12:10 pm

    sure but don’t you just find that the more time you spend with them, the more they want from you and the less independent they area.
    Back on form this morning and dispatched them to play together or by themselves whilst I stole a 2 hours to myself lounging in bed reading!! Well, I deserve it!!

  24. 21st June 2010 / 8:39 pm

    Children definitely need time on their own – I’m incredibly pleased that Toddlergirl can and will play on her own, it means I get to do other things and that she gets to learn on her own, not being constantly directed by a parent with all the answers – desperately hoping to replicate it with Babygirl

  25. 22nd June 2010 / 5:19 pm

    we spend WAY too much time with ours, she’s an only child and I think she needs to learn to entertain herself, and play with her peers not rely on adults. I think children often need to be themselves as they grow, we need to learn to give them space. I think spending time with your child (if it’s used to entertain them) can be counter productive, of course if they need time with you to show you things, to tell you things, to let you be proud of them, that’s different time…time you need to give.

  26. 29th June 2010 / 8:47 pm

    What a fascinating post, really resonates with me. I definintely do ‘too much’ with my boys (4 and 3). I think I’ve exhausted them actually. I’m now letting them just BE, rather than being with them or scheduling stuff every hour of the day.
    ‘Benign neglect’…it’s a woefully underated style of parenting. Suggest immediate campaign. Perhaps with own show and SlovenlyNanny approach?

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