Parenting: QT Better Than OT

Photo by JD via Flickr. Click for original.
Photo by JD via Flickr. Click for original.

 

Parents often equate good parenting with spending as much time with their children as possible. The idea is that, in those hours, parents will cultivate particular characteristics in their children that will contribute to bright futures. But is helicopter parenting really worth it? Sociologists Melissa Milkie and Kei Nomaguchi share the findings of their recent study with the Washington Post: “I could literally show you 20 charts, and 19 of them would show no relationship between the amount of parents’ time and children’s outcomes. . . . Nada. Zippo,” says Milkie.

It’s not the number of hours, but quality of time spent together that matters. Interactive activities like reading to a child, sharing a meal, and talking one-on-one benefit kids, while just watching TV together may be detrimental, as Amy Hsin found. Still, Milkie and Nomaguchi’s study did find that teenagers who engaged with a parent for six hours per showed lower levels of delinquent behavior and drug use than peers who spent less time with their parents.

The authors dug deeper, finding that when a parent was overly-tired, stressed, cranky, or feeling guilty, spending time with their children could lead to more behavioral problems and lower math scores. Nomaguchi says, “Mothers’ stress, especially when mothers are stressed because of the juggling with work and trying to find time with kids, that may actually be affecting their kids poorly.” This particularly impacts parents from low-income households who often lack access to social resources for improving mental health, but still feel the pressure to be “good” parents by spending time with their children. In fact, Milkie and Nomaguchi found that the biggest indicators of child success were mothers’ income and education levels:

“If we’re really wanting to think about the bigger picture and ask, how would we support kids, our study suggests through social resources that help the parents in terms of supporting their mental health and socio-economic status. The sheer amount of time that we’ve been so focused on them doesn’t do much,” says Milkie.

Old Dogs, New Tricks

Ian Philp, director of the Clean Energy Institute, shares a maxim his mother taught him: "Have a clear, tangible idea of what success---or your goal---looks like when you set out." Photo by MaRS Discovery District, Flickr CC.
Ian Philp, director of the Clean Energy Institute, shares a maxim his mother taught him: “Have a clear, tangible idea of what success—or your goal—looks like when you set out.” Photo by MaRS Discovery District, Flickr CC.

It’s March, and many people’s well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions have long gone out the window. Making lifestyle changes can be difficult, but in an interview with Washington Post, sociologist Christine Whelan sheds light on how to make a fresh start.

Her first piece of insight comes straight from sociologists’ time use surveys: consider a new habit as not only adding to your schedule, but also subtracting time from other activities. “If I said ‘I want to go the gym for an hour three times a week,’ the first thing I’d have to figure out is, what am I not going to be doing during those hours. But we don’t tend to think about that,” Whelan points out. Prioritization is key. Weighing the costs and benefits of sacrificing an hour spent sleeping or watching House of Cards for an hour at the gym will help determine if your goal is manageable or needs reworking.

Whelan also stresses the importance of making sure the new goal is something you want to accomplish, rather than something you feel like you should be doing. “You’re much less likely to accomplish a change if you don’t want to do it, and it’s not in keeping with your values.”

Finally, she advises against creating a laundry list of goals in favor of developing one new habit at a time. Specific goals are more likely to become habits because, according to Whelan, distinct aspirations are “SMART”:

Specific

Measurable

There’s a Reward for sticking to it

Progress is Trackable

After 90 days of practice, it’s likely that your concerted lifestyle change will pay off: “The longer you stick with it, the more likely it is you’ll develop a habit that you don’t have to think about. It doesn’t require self control, there’s not a lot of active internal debate. You just do it.”

Working for the Long Weekend

The Preiser Project, Flickr CC.
The Preiser Project, Flickr CC.

Who doesn’t love a four (or five!) day weekend? An extra day or two away from the desk means more time for leisure activities and to disengage from work. But Scott Schieman, sociology professor at University of Toronto, warns that consistently short work weeks may not help work-life balance in the long run. In an interview on CBC’s Daybreak South, Schieman said,

I think what we have to really look at are the nature or the demands of the job—and how those demands can either be compressed in particular time periods, or whether they actually need to be spread out, and that’s when you get to some of the cons.

When the same amount of work needs to be done in three days instead of five, it means longer hours. It’s like cramming for a college exam, when it’s physically tiring and harder to process information. Even if three days of intense work seems like a good trade for four days at home, it’s still unlikely that “days off” mean not working, Schieman points out: “What if there’s a deadline, what if there’s an ongoing project? Can you really break from that fully?” Additionally, people with families may find the long hours associated with shorter work weeks incompatible with obligations like carpool, and non-stop work is unlikely to happen in a house with a demanding toddler. Savoring the occasional holiday might provide a better balance, aligning with kids’ school days and taken-for-granted “business hours,” while adding in a “bonus” day of leisure intermittently.

The More Things Change

Photo by Fotologic/Jon Nicholls via flickr.com.
Photo by Fotologic/Jon Nicholls via flickr.com.

…The more they stay the same. That is one conclusion University of Maryland sociologist John Robinson draws from the results of the 2012 American Time Use Survey. Despite the global economic downturn in 2008 and subsequent elevated levels of unemployment in the U.S., the breakdown of how Americans spend their time has changed little over the past five years.

In 2007, Americans reported working an average of 7.6 hours per day. Five years later, in 2012, employed people worked for 7.7 hours each day, while dedicating two hours to chores and five to six hours to leisure (approximately half of that leisure time is spent watching television).

Robinson explained the similar time use as social inertia:

We went through the biggest recession in history, we went through the most economic turmoil. And yet we see very little decline in the time that people spend working.

Other notable statistics include the growing parity in how much time men and women spend more equal amounts of time working, doing housework, and taking part in the leisure activities than they did 50 years ago. Additionally, U.S. citizens are found to be increasingly sedentary. Between leisure time spent in front of the television and sedentary work environments, Americans use little of their time in physical activity.

The Family Dinner Mystique

Family dinners are often thought of as a sort of magical hour each night, where parents and children connect, laughing and talking about their day over steaming dishes of mashed potatoes and green beans. So, where does that leave (perhaps the majority of) families for which this illusive ideal doesn’t quite become daily reality? Past research has suggested that regular family dinners do have many positive outcomes in kids’ lives, but new work by Ann Meier and Kelly Musick suggests the relationship may not simply be a straightforward case of cause and effect. Writing in The New York Times, Meier and Musick wonder:

[D]oes eating together really make for better-adjusted kids? Or is it just that families that can pull off a regular dinner also tend to have other things (perhaps more money, or more time) that themselves improve child well-being?

Our research, published last month in the peer-reviewed Journal of Marriage and Family, shows that the benefits of family dinners aren’t as strong or as lasting as previous studies suggest.

They did find that kids who had regular family dinners exhibited less depressive symptoms, drug and alcohol use, and delinquency. However, the relationship significantly weakened after accounting for factors like the quality of their family relationships, other activities they do with their parents, how their parents monitor them, or their family’s income. Additionally, Meier and Musick didn’t find lasting effects of family dinners when they analyzed data collected years later, when the kids were young adults.

What, then, should you think about dinnertime? Though we are more cautious than other researchers about the unique benefits of family dinners, we don’t dismiss the possibility that they can matter for child well-being. Given that eating is universal and routine, family meals offer a natural opportunity for parental influence: there are few other contexts in family life that provide a regular window of focused time together…

But our findings suggest that the effects of family dinners on children depend on the extent to which parents use the time to engage with their children and learn about their day-to-day lives. So if you aren’t able to make the family meal happen on a regular basis, don’t beat yourself up: just find another way to connect with your kids.

 

Barbara Risman on the “Mommy War” Distraction

Maternity Ward Cartoon by Mike Kline, dakinewavamon.blogspot.com

Kudos to University of Illinois sociologist and Council on Contemporary Families head Barbara Risman for putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys, more likely) for CNN.com in an insightful commentary about why it is that the so-called Mommy Wars are a distraction—and how they’re keeping us from truly addressing work-life balance in the United States.

In her short piece, Risman points out just four of the many contradictions between society’s values and actions that put the lie to the valorization of care-giving, using research from sociology and beyond to demonstrate that post-war workplaces don’t (and, quite possibly, can’t) serve millenial families. In one particularly telling example, Risman writes:

Sociologist Mirra Komarovsky pointed out these contradictions back in 1953. She argued back then that if society truly believed caretaking was an important and difficult job, nursery school teachers would rate a salary at least equal to the beginning salary of a street cleaner. Not much has changed since then. As Stephanie Coontz, a historian and co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, told me: “It’s time for politicians to stop competing over the women’s votes and start competing over who has the best programs to support all parents, whatever their employment status or their gender.”

She concludes with a succinct call to action: “Let’s call a truce on the fictional mommy wars and start a war on workplaces that don’t allow mommies and daddies to live full lives, on the job and at home.”

“Womanly” at Work, “Manly” at Home

Men in women-dominated careers do more "manly" housework than other men, a new study finds. Photo by comedy_nose via flickr.com

Men who work in majority-female professions—say, as nurses or as kindergarten teachers—don’t also take on more traditionally “womanly” tasks at home, according to new research in the American Journal of Sociology.

Husbands working in “gender deviant” fields actually put in more hours on “manly” chores when they’re off the clock, study author and Princeton University doctoral student Daniel Schneider found, when compared with men who work in more gender-balanced fields. “They putter around with the cars, take care of the yard, fix things around the house—you know, guy stuff,” wrote Bonnie Rochman, covering the study in Time.

Schneider found that the wives of these men also put in more time on typical women’s housework such as cooking and cleaning.

“It’s counterintuitive in a sense,” Schneider told Time. “Maybe what we’re seeing here is that men who are gender-deviant in the market are doing compensatory action at home by doing more typically male chores.”

Schneider’s AJS study looked at heterosexual couples in the U.S., using census data to calculate which occupations were predominantly female and information on individuals’ occupations and time spent on housework from the National Survey of Families and Households and the American Time Use Survey.