For years, sociologists, governments and parents have been trying to determine whether the amount of time a parent spends with their child actually matters for the child's success in life. How are we to know what’s best for our children and our families? We don't need charts or questionnaires; we just need to look around us at the obvious answers to this question.
There are four obvious reasons why children need an abundance of time with their parents.
1. Parents, especially mothers, have a physical need to be with and raise their children: it’s biological and self-evident.
As president of The Worldwide Organization For Women and founder of Teaching Self-Government, I meet with mothers and fathers worldwide to discuss their family relationships, stresses, family problems, and desires. One of the most common statements I hear from parents is, “I know I need to spend more time with my children.” These parents who are asking for help connecting with their children already know the answer to the child’s behavior problem or to their problem of feeling unfulfilled with parenthood. The answer is time. They need time with their children.
Time living the parent role is a need. It’s a physical and emotional need for mothers. From the time the child is born, not only does the child biologically need the mother, but also the mother biologically needs the child. In a recent report given at the United Nations Conference by socialogist Margunn Bjornhølt, the director of policy and social research in Norway on “The Status of Women in New York City,” Bjornhølt and the others on the panel agreed that women have reported more happiness and fulfillment when they’re able to have more time at home raising their children. This fact was given as a reason that countries, like Norway, are continuing to increase the length of their maternity and paternity leave with pay programs.
Humans have a biological (physical, spiritual and emotional) need to care for their young, and feel depression and stress when they don't arrange their lives to enjoy that time with their children. The fact that children are born to parents makes this mutual need self-evident.
2. Children need quantity and quality of time with parents, not conformity to social and employment customs. Children have a self-evident physical, spiritual and emotional need to connect to parents. Children need quantity of time and quality of time with parents for proper social, emotional, mental and physical safety and development — as well as for confidence in life.
Children who spend more time with their parents are happier, healthier and more obedient. These children are generally also better communicators, more motivated, harder working, better problem solvers, and do better in school too.
Even the most extreme situations illustrate the self-evident need for a parent. Children who are abused often want to return home to their abusive parent. Why? Because there’s a bond, even though damaged, that the child needs for security in life. That abusive person is their parent. They need an attachment to their parent. As a foster parent for troubled youth, I repeatedly saw this desire to return to parents who were not ideal and even abusive. Parents fulfill a vital need for a child's development.
Probably the most overwhelmingly obvious point that’s being missed by researchers is that in the last 60 years — since time with peers at school and afterward has increased for children and time away from parents has decreased due to busy lifestyles — child sexual activity, pregnancy, teen drug use, childhood depression, and teen suicide have all increased.
About quality of time: It doesn't do us any good to discuss spending quality of time with children unless quality of time is actually understood. Comparing one activity to another and determining that one activity ranks higher than the other for reason of virtue, character or principle can only determine quality of time. This makes understanding quality of time a subjective study. Parents struggle with knowing what is truly quality and what isn't.
The opposite of quality is conformity. Conformity is being in agreement to a model, form or manner. It’s resembling or agreeing with a common goal, moral or standard. Many families today are in a state of conformity. “Fitting in” with the social standard for education, child sports or activities, number of electronic devices and the time usage of those devices are the most common methods of conformity seen in our day. The media has led society to embrace conformity. Parents everywhere are looking for a formula that will help them conform better to the desired social outcome.
A parent, who really wants quality time, must also embrace quantity of time. When parents focus on having more time with their children they end up having more discussions, doing more projects, and owning their own time. The very act of being together as a family creates a culture tha’'s counter to the popular social conformity messages surrounding them daily.
Planning to talk with a child daily is a great idea for busy parents, but working and talking side-by-side throughout a whole summer day is true quality of time. A child never forgets learning to plant a garden, trim a tree or preserve peaches with their parent. These types of projects take time. Every minute is not full of planned talking, but the closeness and unity felt transforms the relationship into something that will last a lifetime.
A parent who schedules a bit of time for their children weekly is likely just a voice in the crowd to the child who is disconnected from home life most of his days. But, a parent who is working with, exploring with, and talking with their child throughout the day will be the voice the child compares all the other voices too. Parents who spend more time with children have more of an influence in their children's lives.
Additionally, children should know that time with parents actually matters. They shouldn't feel put off or like someone who has to be scheduled in. When parents have lots of casual, not planned, time with children they feel like an important part of the parent's life. Children need to know they’re a priority. Quantity of time teaches that.
3. Our identities are formed in our families.
As mentioned previously, even abused children want to return home to their families. Why? Because their identity is rooted with the parents who raised them, no matter their flaws. Families instill beliefs, and acquaint children with a Power greater than themselves: God.
Only in the home can another vital part of our identities be nurtured: our relationship to God and our purpose in life.
The environment each person spends the most time in forms each person. Only in the home does a person find true identity. Parents and children have roles at home that lead children to understand the meaning of life and the importance of relationships and goodness. The training in other settings that occurs often points a child away from family and God and toward themselves.
In school or daycare the child is automatically in a position to survive. Each child looks to his or herself for purpose and is told to choose paths for life without healthy understanding of consequence. Without the words actually being said, children at schools and support centers learn that life is about themselves. They perceive they are to focus on what they want and what they can get. Homes lead children to relationships and God. The world environments lead children to lives motivated by self-interest.
4. Everyone chooses a leader.
It’s human nature for us to want a leader to tell us or show us what to do. Who will lead our children? The current options for the leaders of children are peers, parents or media.
A wise parent recognizes the leader is the person who captures the majority of the child's time. Quantity of time equals quantity of exposure to ideas and instructions. We must determine whom our children spend the most time with, and when we find the answer, we must make adjustments to switch leadership back to the parents. It’s self-evident that God determined children need parents as their leaders; not pop stars, screens or schoolmates.
No matter what social scientists say about how much time children need or don't need with their parents, parents should look to the obvious truths before making a decision. It’s obvious that parents, especially mothers, need to be with their children to be happy and fulfilled. And children need their parents for security and identity. Parents who spend quantity of time with children will naturally have more quality time and both are essential for avoiding conformity. Everyone chooses a leader from the people they see most. No matter what capacity parents think is more powerful or more important, there will never be any role more powerful or influential as the historically proven, powerful role of parent.