Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend with Children or Adolescents Matter?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend with Children or Adolescents Matter?

Article excerpt

Does the amount of time children spend with their mothers matter for children's developmental outcomes? The answer, by all accounts, should be yes, according to current beliefs about optimal childrearing methods in the United States: Mothers' time is thought to be especially important, even irreplaceable, for the well-being of children (Hays, 1996; Warner, 2006). Indeed, this ideology of intensive mothering-the belief that the proper development of children requires mothers lavishing large amounts of time and energy on offspring (Hays, 1996)-is pervasive in American culture, is central to the spirited debates over whether maternal employment harms children (Bianchi, 2000), and is embodied in the "Mommy Wars," an alleged dispute between homemaker and employed mothers in which the former are said to accuse the latter of being selfish and harming children by being away from home too often (Hays,1996).

Yet some scholars question the sacrosanctity of mothers' time for the well-being of children. Presser (1995) called the belief that mothers' time is more important than fathers' a "double standard of parenthood" and asserted that "there is little empirical justification to support this view" (p. 300). Indeed, most studies that have attempted to assess the whole of mothers' time investments in children have not done so directly; they either used indirect measures of mothers' time (e.g., mothers' paid work hours or hours of nonmaternal care) or examined mothers' participation in certain activities (e.g., reading, eating meals, talking) with children (Sénéchal & Lefevre, 2002; Weinstein, 2005). Few studies have examined whether the total quantity of time mothers spend with their children relates to children's developmental outcomes such as behavior, emotions, and academic performance. Thus, in part because of a paucity of refined empirical data, our understanding of how the quantity of mother-child time relates to offspring development is underdeveloped.

We examined whether the amount of time children spent with their mothers was positively associated with key facets of offspring development-behavioral and emotional health and academic performance-by analyzing time diary and survey data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics Child Development Supplement (PSID-CDS; https://psidonline.isr.umich. edu/Guide/FAQ.aspx?Type=2) in 1997 and 2002. We assessed two types of maternal time that are prominent in public and scholarly debates: (a) accessible time, or the total amount of time the focal child spent with the mother present but not directly participating in activities with mother, and (b) engaged time, or the total amount of time the focal child spent participating in activities with mother (Folbre, Yoon, Finnoff, & Fuligni, 2005; Larson & Richards, 1994). Because the importance of maternal time may depend on a child's age, we examined the two developmental stages of childhood and adolescence. To address the question of the sacredness of maternal time, we examined whether the amount of time spent with father (but not mother) and time with both parents jointly (parent time) were related to child and adolescent development. We also assessed the importance of maternal time for offspring outcomes relative to social status resources, such as family income and education. By using data that directly measured mothers' time with children, this study advances our understanding of how the quantity of mother-child time relates to children's and adolescents' developmental outcomes.

BACKGROUND

Maternal Time Investments as Sacred: The Culture of Intensive Mothering

Ideas about childrearing are socially constructed, varying according to the culture and organization of the society (Hays, 1996). In the United States today, cultural beliefs about childrearing center on the near-sacredness of mothers for children. Mothers' time with children is widely thought to be unique and irreplaceable, because they are purportedly more sensitive to children's needs and more selfless in caring for offspring. …

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