Whew. I can breathe a sigh of relief. I wasn’t as bad of a mother as I sometimes thought. Don’t get me wrong. I was a good mom. Montessori, broccoli, and hugs. But my efforts at being the best mom I could be didn’t stop the thoughts that I should have spent more time with my children.
If how my children turned out as adults could earn a prize, their dad and I would win the biggest blue ribbon ever. But plenty of people manage to grow up to be remarkable human beings notwithstanding imperfect parenting. So my grown children’s success was not the sufficient solace.
My relief came from the first large scale study of its kind published this month in the Journal of Marriage and Family. Conducted with 1500 families by researchers from the University of Toronto, Bowling Green State University, and the University of Maryland, the conclusion was: The amount of time mothers spent with children ages 3 through 11 had virtually no relationship to behavior health, emotional well-being, or academic performance. Even more than the quality or quantity of time a mother spends with her young child, the study showed her income and educational level are most strongly associated with a child’s future success.
Whew. I am relieved to know that my choice to continue a challenging career while my children were young is unlikely to have had an adverse impact on my boys.
One of the biggest worries for people experiencing divorce is the number of hours they spend with their children each week. Many of us think we are the better parent. We may be convinced that our children are better off spending more time with us than anyone else.
As a divorce lawyer who had thousands of conversations with parents about time with their children, I often thought, “It’s not the time they want. It’s the relationship. They want what’s best for their child.”
Whew. I am relieved to know that the quality of time is what matters most. Reading, sharing meals, playing together.
When negotiating the terms of your parenting time, every hour “given away” or “lost” in the mediation or litigation can feel like a battle lost in the war to win the best outcome for your child. But perhaps fighting for every hour is not what is best for your child.
And what could possibly be the benefits of less time with your child?
When a child is away from your protective presence she gets the chance to experience learning that comes from being on her own in other safe yet seemingly scary situations like the camp with the unfamiliar rules or the family that looks different from your own.
A seldom admitted truth is that time away from your child is also a time for a moment’s rest. The stress of a calendar of dance lessons, dinners, homework, softball games, doctor appointments, and school carnivals can take a toll on any parent. A rejuvenated parent is a better parent.
I’m opting to conclude that my investment in my legal career was not a harmful to my children, and that all those hours spent at the dinner table were wise choices, too. Whew.