I'm not a better parent just because I spend more time with my kids

An interactive calculator titled "Do you spend enough time with your kids?" has sparked controversy.

Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

I learned something new about myself today: Apparently, I’m a helicopter parent.

I know, it comes as a shock to me too, but according to a new calculator from Slate, only one percent of parents spent more time with their kids than I did this summer. Now that my kids are in school full-time, that number slid to 25 percent, which alternately makes me feel guilty that I’m not spending enough time with my kids, and relieved that I’m not smothering them.

The interactive calculator, which launched online last week, is titled “Do you spend enough time with your kids?“, and asks parents how many hours on a typical weekday and weekend they spend in the same room with at least one of their kids. Using more than a decade of data collected from the American Time Use Survey, the calculator compares how much time you spend with you kids compared to the rest of population. You can also compare yourself against parents with similar employment situations and kids the same age as yours.

Predictably, the calculator has come under fire for making parents feel bad that they aren’t spending enough time with their kids. Although Slate did say that quantity of time doesn’t equal quality of time (“For the purposes of this interactive, watching Netflix while they play with matches across the room counts the same as reading them The Giving Tree, wrote Slate editors Andrew Kahn and Chris Kirk), it didn’t stop the comments section from spiralling into a competition between parents—pitting stay-at-home parents against working parents and outraging parents with custody arrangements that see them spending only a few hours a week with their kids.

Following that logic, last year my husband would have been considered a terrible parent because he spent only a few hours each week with our two kids. The calculator would have ignored the fact that I solo-parented while he worked out-of-town full-time. In reality, he’s an incredibly engaged father that sacrificed a lot for us last year. Data from Time Use Surveys only reveal a fragment of any parent’s story.

Here’s one thing that I can tell you about having been both a working parent and a stay-at-home mom: There is such a thing as spending too much time with your kids. I experienced it firsthand this past summer when I was with my kids almost 24/7 during the school break. While the first few days of summer vacation gave us the opportunity to reconnect with each other after a busy school year, after the first few weeks, everyone’s tempers were shorter because we were simply spending too much time together. Instead of bonding we bickered, and my self-care dissolved into locking the bathroom door for a few minutes of privacy (although it didn’t stop my kids from knocking on the door to ask if they could watch TV).

And although back-to-school has been rocky for us, the time apart from my kids helps me appreciate them more.

The way I look at it, there’s no gold-star sticker chart that rewards us for the amount of time we spend with our kids. Rack up memories and not just the minutes—that’s what your kids will remember most.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

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