What you need to know:
- Once you’re spending enough time with your children to cover the basics, any additional time you spend with them has no impact whatsoever.
- In fact, some of the hours you spend with your children can even be harmful, for example when you’re stressed, tired, or feeling guilty or anxious.
Nowadays we all somehow assume that parents need to be heavily involved with their children for them to succeed. Especially their mothers, driven by the idea that there’s something special about the way mothers interact with their children. So women everywhere feel guilty that they don’t spend enough time with their children.
But currently, both parents are already more involved with their children than ever before, despite the pressures of work. So much so that many working mothers now spend more hours actively supervising their children than stay-at-home mothers did a generation ago.
But does all that extra time make a difference?
None at all. Once you’re spending enough time with your children to cover the basics, any additional time you spend with them has no impact whatsoever on their academic achievement, behaviour, emotional well-being or eventual success in life. In fact, some of the hours you spend with your children can even be harmful, for example when you’re stressed, tired, or feeling guilty or anxious. Or if the time is spent watching TV, especially with younger children. Your children also need ‘adult-free’ time to themselves, for optimum cognitive development.
That’s not to say that your involvement isn’t important. It’s just that the vast amount of time we feel pressured into spending with them doesn’t produce any additional benefit at all.
So what matters? Your warmth and sensitivity. And simple shared activities such as reading together, eating meals together, and talking one on one. Teenagers especially are more successful when they eat together with their family and talk with their parents. They behave better, are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, or engage in risky behaviours. But even then, a few hours spread throughout the week is more than enough time together.
Always give your children your undivided attention when it’s needed, even if in only five minute bursts. And listen without criticising, so that they tell you everything. They’ll remember those moments for ever and you’ll learn a lot! And notice when they are getting into trouble, like realising that they’re falling in with the wrong sort of friends, for example.
What else matters?
Being a good role model. Because that teaches them your values. And helps them to appreciate just how hard adults have to work to succeed in life. And seeing that their parents love one another helps children understand relationships far better than anything they’ll find on the internet, or hear at school.
Praise their attempts more than their achievements, because learning to put real effort into their schoolwork, homework and chores predicts a child’s success far more than do their grades.
Help them learn to make good choices. Set clear expectations, and enforce them, and keep your promises! Because that’s how children learn to control their impulses and to work towards distant goals.
After that, how much more time you spend with them doesn’t matter. So relax, and enjoy every minute of it!