Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I'd provide a substantive link, but that would take time

On the way to school this morning, I caught an NPR story about yet another recent study of the effect of moms in the workplace. (Perhaps I should clarify - I was on the way to drop my younger child at daycare, after having left my older, possibly-sick child at home with her dad, before trotting up to my desk to, you know, write in my blog.) As I usually do when I hear a working-moms story start, I had my finger ready to turn it off because really, how many times do I need to hear that I, personally, am responsible for the decline of American civilization, global warming, childhood biting, the appalling lack of manners displayed by youth, and dachshunds?

This report was a little different. The author of the book being discussed was a demographer who found that moms today actually spend about the same amount of time doing actual childcare and child engagement as moms did in the 70's. If I remember correctly, the amount was in the 10-15 hours a week range. My first, uncharitable thought was this: My mother's longtime friend, who sent me an inexplicably detailed email a few months ago regarding her decision to stay at home with her kids until they were in school, as well as her own daughters' decisions to be at home with their kids, needed to hear this. My second thought was that I was somehow way above the time average, and therefore, I must be a Good Mom! Yay me! Cookie, please?

As I think about it, though, I'm not that surprised. The author's findings were that the moms' jobs were taking time away from housework and cooking, but not from kids. I believe that -- the amount of housework personally completed by DT or me in our house is minuscule compared to what my parents did. We pay a housekeeper every two weeks (much cheaper than a marriage counselor), I don't really know where my iron is, and we're masters of the quick meal. The other places that the time came from? TV-watching, leisure time and time with spouses. Those are more problematic trade-offs, especially if the TV-watching is of the basketball variety, of course.

The other implication is that stay-at-home moms today spend much more time with their kids than stay-at-home moms did when I was growing up. This also rings true to me. There's an archetypal over-indulged and over-scheduled child now, which would have been an oddity in my generation, but now is remarkably common. It's not just parents trying to make sure their kids are using their time wisely by being trained in classical art, music, soccer and gymnastics at age 2, though. Even in our kids' "free" time, the parents in my circle certainly have difficulty letting their kids roam independently (usually for valid reasons, but the result is the same).

[Side note: I think this is where the martini playdate is a very good thing. Some of my favorite parenting moments lately have been when we've gotten together with another family, had drinks for the adults, and let the kids just play. Freedom for all.]

Jumbled final thoughts: As always, the bottom line is one of moderation. If you love what you do, you'll be a better parent by doing it. Anyone who expects moms to shoulder the entire burden these days is better suited to living in a museum than in my neighborhood. I'm a sucker for letting other peoples' studies affect my opinion of our families' decision. If my bright-eyed, intensely dramatic, curious, vaguely whiny, unique kids are wrong, I don't want to be right.

No comments: