We were the focus of the “Hi, Mom” wishes from professional athletes on TV. We were the stars of Proctor & Gamble’s viral “Thanks Mom” campaign, which begged the question: “Where the hell is Dad and why can’t he do the 5 a.m. hockey carpool?”
We were the reason for the nearly $15 billon spent each year on gifts, cards, and flowers for Mother’s Day, the 4th most expensive holiday after Valentine’s Day (3), Thanksgiving (2), and Christmas (1).
And now, it’s over, because our time with the kids no longer matters so much.
A new study from the Maryland Population Research Center asked, “How Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend with Children Matter?” and answered with a shrug and “not much.” Though we moms are spending more time with our children today than the (overwhelmingly at-home) moms of the 1960s, that time isn’t necessarily improving their wellbeing, say the study’s authors.
They set out to determine whether the quantity of time mothers spend with their children relates to their “academic, socio-emotional, and health outcomes.” In other words, do moms matter as much as we believe they do?
The conclusion: “From the best available data from a nationally representative sample of children ages 3 to 18, we show that for the most part, it matters little.”
That’s a fine “up yours,” isn’t it? Or is it really just the old Quality Time argument, the one that forced us to make “teachable moments” out of buying (Look! red) tomatoes, (green!) lettuce, (purple!) eggplants, and (yellow!) bananas while at the supermarket, and to play Chutes & Ladders a gazillion times. The one that made some of us into Helicopter Moms who must oversee their children’s every move. Or the one that spawned the Tiger Mom, who spent her time with her kids making sure they got their three hours in on the cello every day.
Fathers, on the other hand, matter. How do we know this? Science. Last year an author published a book about the “overlooked parent” in which he backs up reasons dads are awesome sauce with studies about how they can offset Mom’s postpartum depression and keep daughters from messing around with boys when they’re too young.
Moms, on the other hand, are mostly credited for not screwing up their kids if they work. (Note: Nobody has looked into whether working dads are bad for the kids.)
Yay, us! Yay, Mom.
Ah, but wait. Most studies about moms aren’t so pretty. They say:
We cause our kids’ obesity if we don’t comfort them properly when they’re little.
We influence whether our boys become juvenile delinquents.
Our relationships affect whether our adolescents have friends….and many, many more studies like it are produced every week.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. I thought our time spent with the kids didn’t matter so much? So maybe a half-hour talking about feelings in the car on the way to a soccer game may be more important than a five-minute, “How ya doin’?” after all?
Or maybe this Mom’s Time with the Kids Doesn’t Matter study if the very one we’ve been waiting for — the one that lets us off the hook for every little thing that happens to our kids or that our kids do. Is this finally the moment that some of the pressure for churning out society’s next generation falls on Dad–and teachers, coaches, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, tutors, therapists and the kids themselves? Can a Momma get a break?
It seems we finally have.
That is until tomorrow’s study finds that mothers don’t spend enough time with their kids. You’ll see.