Tuesday, January 27, 2009

And While We're At It

Believe it or not, I got roughly 0 hours of sleep last night, since D3 and D4 carefully choreographed alternating screams of hunger. However, pondering random thoughts is easy for me when I have had little sleep. It's kissing owies that I don't have any capacity for when I'm tired. Fortunately no one is screaming at the moment.

Which relates, somewhat tangentially, to another idea I'd like to discuss: parenting time investment. Here's an article arguing that 1) parents actually spend more time interacting with their children now than in years past; and 2) it doesn't really matter how you parent, as kids turn out according to their natural bent in the long run, even though parenting style may make some difference in the short run. (Ruling out extremes of abuse and neglect, of course.)

There are a couple of things left out of this discussion; one is opinions rather than just personality traits. Whether you are devout or not might be more a matter of personality, but I'm pretty sure whether you're a Baptist or a Hindu is very strongly correlated with what your parents believed. Also even if your child turns out all right, most of us would like to still be on speaking terms with them and have them remember our time together fondly. So don't throw parenting out the window entirely.

That said, I do suspect that the modern standard of "good parenting" pushes us way past the point of diminishing returns (at least for most people). At least if I am interpreting other people correctly (and the time diaries cited in the article are correct) many mothers try to spend all or most of their children's waking minutes interacting with them. Some make this a conscious goal; others seem to just fall into it and then wonder if they should institute some time for them to play alone.

Which, if you like it, is great. But is it the gold standard of good motherhood?

I sure hope not, because it's always seemed so hopeless to me that I've never even tried. I'm not really a people person and I'm not at all a reality person.

And as I consider my own childhood, which was quite happy, I think: Did my parents spend every waking moment with me? Certainly not. Did I want them to? Definitely not. It was nice to have them handy in case of emergencies, but they were parents, not buddies. A good portion of my time was devoted to evading their notice, secure in the knowledge that parental notice would shortly be followed by chores. Having them try to enter into our games would have spoiled the fun. Adults just don't get some things; worse, they know too much.

There is, no doubt, an age differential here: I am remembering elementary age, while most of the mothers I've read talking like this have preschoolers or younger. I have read, for instance, that up to about age two children prefer to play with adults even over a slightly-older sibling; by three the preference switches. And I cannot speak at all to the situation of an only child.

But even at 3 and 4 D1 and D2 are quite happy playing by themselves for hours each day, with only occasionally including me or appealing to me to settle arguments. And D3 and D4 spend a good portion of the day just rolling around on the floor and watching. Maybe if I chattered with D3 and D4 I could nudge them ahead a bit in language development, but what would be the point? They'd use the same number of words as adults. And with daily focused activities I could probably have at least D1 reading, but why bother? She'll learn to read on her own soon enough, or if not, all the faster for waiting a few more years, and she'll be reading the exact same books at twelve either way.

This sounds like an excuse for laziness. It's not exactly (although I do feel like I fritter away a lot of time these days, but sleep-deprivation is not a good state to engage in any elaborate endeavors). You can spend as much time doing stuff together as is fun for all of you, and then you can not feel guilty about doing all the other interesting things that can be done with the children within earshot.


Carrie said...

Hmm. Ok. 0 hours of sleep.

I will stop complaining now.

the Joneses said...

I've spent my whole motherhood feeling guilty about not spending enough time with my kids. And you'd think a stay-at-home homeschooling mom would give herself a little leeway in this area.

But it's true that A&S prefer that I be available but not actually WITH them most of the time. What I have had to learn is not to push them away so I can have more space. But as long as I'm here when they need me, then they seem to think their lives are pretty good.

Of course you feel like you fritter your time away, and it probably doesn't much help for others to remind you that you're not wasting your time... but I will anyway. You're raising four very small children. You're not frittering!

-- SJ

Kathy U said...

I think that kids need a variety of adults in their lives. Kids learn from everyone around them so surrounding them with adults who offer a variety of skills, personalities and lifestyles gives them the chance to learn about their community and world.

I also think kids need adults in their lives who don't have to be - they want to be. Teachers, doctors, sitters, relatives are in their lives because of the work they do or in the case of relatives - they come with the family.

Participating in activities with trained adult leadership like Camp Fire groups or summer camp helps kids develop a sense of independance and confidence. They develop an identiity beyond being a kid in their family. They learn how to get along with others, how to take responsibility and how to be a part of a community that is different from home.