Did women of your mother's generation spend more time or less time with their children than do mothers today?

11 years ago

So, do you spend more time with your children than Moms of the 50s? Please consider the question. How you answer may give you insight into whether your mommy guilt is based on fact or fiction. Researchers at The University of Maryland studied this question and concluded the following:

According to a University of Maryland study, today's mothers spend more hours focused on their children than their own mothers did 40 years ago, often imagined as the golden era of June Cleaver, television's ever-cheerful, cookie-baking mom. (Nashua Telegraph)

Television? Well, maybe that's our problem today. We're imagining history and 50s television are one in the same.

A few important points about how researchers conducted this study, which was reported in The Washington Post, are the following:

The University of Maryland study stands out because it relied on activity-by-activity "time diary" accounts of how Americans spend their days, which experts say are more reliable than survey questions about parenting.

Respondents are walked through a 24-hour period, detailing each activity, even if it was brief. They are not told that there is an interest in parents' time use or any other trend.

The national study, first done from the University of Michigan in 1965, was conducted again in 1975, 1985 and 1995 and several dates around 2000.

More recently, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics started a similar time-use survey, and the Maryland researchers have drawn on that for their most recent data, for 2003.

The title of the article at The Washington Post is Despite 'Mommy Guilt,' Time With Kids Increasing.

Actually, I think many of us tend to imagine that other people's lives are better than ours and that those "other people" we admire come closer to some ideal we have in our heads than we do. I, for instance, believe I don't do enough for my son and that I'm not as active in his school as the other parents.

In my mind those other parents are the majority of parents, and I'm some type of "bad parent" exception to the entire school. Some of these fears may be due to post-divorce mommy guilt as opposed to regular mommy guilt. And I'm positive part of my problem is comparing myself to my mother; however, when I think about it now, my mom was less active in my high school.

My daughter, 26, pointed out to me my illogical thinking as we walked down the hall at my son's high school on our way to some event that I don't remember now. I said to her, "You know, I always feel guilty when I come here. I think of the women in the Music Boosters and all the PTA meetings I miss."

My daughter smiled at me and said, "Mom, look at the size of this school and look at the people who are here now. Do you think the majority of parents are here tonight?"

She had a point. No, I didn't think the parents there that evening were most of the parents despite the event taking place at a predominantly white high-school smack in the middle of a middle-class suburb, a bastion of family values applauded for its active parents.

Last week I interviewed a school district superintendent who manages schools in the town adjacent to mine, a town similar to mine but known even more for its affluence. He said something that struck me, that parents tend to be less active in group activities at schools when their children are in secondary school, and he attributed it to mothers returning to work to help pay for college tuition.

He said that these mothers are still "very much involved with their children's lives." They just don't show up as often to parent-planning functions or volunteer at school the way they did when their children were younger. I didn't say anything to him but I thought, Really? You mean, it's not just me. I thought I was the "bad" mommy of NJ Suburbia.

Believe me! I have plenty room for improvement and hope next year to show up and be active in Music Boosters or do more with the PTA than just pay my dues. But this is not really the point of this blog post.

The point of this blog post is to ask, "How much of what we think is wrong with us as parents is all in our heads?" I throw in my own experiences so other mothers will know that I speak from soul searching.

Analytical type that I am, I wondered if the referenced study asked the right questions. The commentary mentioned the "cookie-baking mom."

Was baking cookies about spending time with one's children or providing a service for the child? Is it possible our mothers did more services for us than we do for our children? For instance, my mother could sew well, and she made my Halloween costumes. One year I was Cousin It from the Addams family. Pretty cool. So, I was about to point out that I didn't do those things for my kids. I don't sew.

Then I caught myself again. I don't sew but I have used my theater background to make-up my daughter's face. She was a pretty scary vampire face one year. I wanted to help my son with his costumes, but he was not a fan of dressing up for too much for Halloween.

So, again I ask, do we see ourselves realistically or do we compare ourselves to some Super Parent figment of our imaginations, a myth, that makes us seem like failures?

Nordette Adams's current personal blog (as of 2007) is WSATA.

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