Parents often struggle to handle work time and family time. This struggle can affect the environment in which a child is raised, compromising the quality of his or her development. In fact, research shows that growing up in a stressful environment is associated with delinquent behavior in a child.
However, the same research bears the good news that the potential negative impacts of a stress-filled environment can be countered by having parents who are involved in their child’s growing up years.
So, it’s no wonder so many parents consider taking some time off to be at home. But when to do it? Often, parents are split between staying at home during infancy (from birth to 12 months) and middle school/early teen years (typically between 11 and 14 years old).
The reality, however, is that most parents do not have the luxury to be present at every minute of their kid’s young life. With the need to balance between family needs, work needs, as well as personal needs, the question becomes less about why we should spend more time with our kids and more on when would be the best stage to spend more time with our kids.
Being there during infancy
As infants, children are completely dependent on adults for care, love and comfort. As parents, the thought of leaving our fragile infants in the hands of another person can eat away at us, affecting our focus at work. As one parent, Obet Cabrillas, who is a Preacher and Spiritual Director, said in an interview discussing quality time with kids, “We are a product of the people who loved us and refused to love us!” Leaving our little ones at home with someone else responding to their cries creates the feeling of guilt and the thought that we are depriving our babies of the love they deserve.
Indeed, spending time with our babies is rewarding. We develop empathy and patience as we become increasingly attuned to their specific needs, which build a special parent-child connection. We have the privilege of watching them develop their senses, sense of focus, unique personality and initial words.
Bonding time during middle school years may be more formative.
While time spent with your infant is priceless, research finds that having full time maternal care during infancy leads to similar developmental outcomes for a child as utilizing day care or full time nanny care during infancy. Research also suggests that taking time off to guide the growth of children may be less important during infancy than during the pre-teen and teenage years.
As any adult can attest, the middle school years are some of the toughest years for growing up. We feel awkward. We have a thousand questions running through our minds. And we have plenty of influences vying for our attention. Parental guidance and bonding time with middle school kids may need to be uninterrupted.
Quality first, before quantity
Since we’re deciding when would be the optimal time to take a step back from work and become the lead parent at home, it’s also important to point out that bonding time with kids should be more about quality than quantity.
Studies show that the amount of time parents spend in childcare has increased since the 1970s. Fathers spend almost five more hours a week with their kids now than they did 40 years ago. Mothers spend an additional three hours per week now than in 1965.
However, research shows that supporting children’s mental, emotional and social development does not depend entirely on spending so much time with children. In fact, there is such a thing as spending too much time with kids in which parents may already be depriving young ones of the opportunity to shape their identity, autonomy and imagination.
But between infancy and middle school years, children may need their parents to be at home more during adolescence. Pre-teens and teens whose parents engage with them during meal time or in the car to and from school are less likely to display delinquent behavior, substance abuse, or poor academic performance. A study was able to determine that an average of six hours per week between parents and adolescents is enough to have positive effects in a child’s development into his or her adult years.
As much as parents would want to be there for their children no matter what, they do NOT need to feel guilty about being absent from certain moments. Parents simply need to be there when it matters most – during middle school years and at least six meaningful and engaging hours per week.
Chiara writes about business, finance, social enterprising, health and medicine, and the unique placement of women across these areas. She is also a co-creator at FictionFolk, which designs events that aim to peddle the literature culture.
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