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Spending Time with Kids

Despite the time-poor two income parent family stress of the 21st century, recently published US research concludes that today's mothers and fathers spend at least as many hours caring for their children each week as parents did four decades ago. Suzanne Bianchi, John Robinson and Melissa Milkie suggest in their book, Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, that there is a gap between parents' self-evaluations and the currently high 'intensive parenting.'

Their study is based on time diaries completed in 2000 which indicate that married fathers spent an average 6.5 hours a week caring for their children, a 153 percent increase since 1965. Married mothers spent 12.9 hours, a 21 percent increase. Single mothers spent 11.8 hours, a 57 percent increase. The figures are for "primary care" where the child is the main focus of attention, not for time spent with the child while doing other things. Time-diary numbers, however, do not say whether mothers are as accessible to their children at home during as many hours as they were in the past.

The rise in child-care time documented in parents' diaries began after 1985. Mothers' child-care hours fell from 1965 to 1985, consistent with an era in which the average number of children per family declined, women's employment rose sharply, and single parenting increased. Since then, though, mothers with paid jobs and mothers without them have increased their time with their children. Married fathers' child-care hours changed little until 1985, and rose substantially after that. The U.S. trend parallels findings of national-level time-diary studies in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands, as well as limited data from Australia. Both mothers and fathers in those countries have increased their hours with their children, fathers most dramatically. Another way parents try to make more time for their children is to do two things at once.

Time diary comparisons show that parents spent twice as many hours multitasking in 2000 as they did in 1975. During waking hours, "about half of today's parents' time is spent doing two or more activities simultaneously," the authors write. The authors acknowledge that some of their conclusions go against the grain of popular belief. Although they raise concerns about the strains on parents, especially single mothers, they conclude that some aspects of childrearing have not suffered in the transition to a world where most mothers have joined the labour force. You can find out more about this book at http://www.russellsage.org/publications/books/060110.113159

Posted Wednesday, 17 January 2007

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