The Mothers Who Spend Just 19 Minutes a Day with Their Children; as New Statistics Reveal the Pressure Work Puts on Family Life, PENNY MARSHALL Investigates
Byline: by Penny Marshall
ONLY one Christmas present given to me as a child has survived into my adult years. It is a handwritten book full of family recipes. All the shop-bought baubles, bangles and Barbies I clamoured for have long gone. But the Marshall Family Recipe Book, compiled by my mother, remains intact all these years later.
It must have taken her hours to write out each recipe in her delicate longhand. My favourite, in the cakes and biscuits section, is a recipe for Grandma Marshall's shortcrust pastry. No one could make a mince pie like Grandma, though every Christmas my mother and I tried.
The book cost my mother nothing to compile, except time, which is why it has always meant so much to me. The time she invested in it was proof of how much she loved me.
But as I approach Christmas, with work deadlines to meet, shopping to do and school carol concerts to get to, time for my three teenage daughters is a commodity of which I'm desperately short. And I'm not the only parent struggling.
For though we clearly love our children just as much as ever, we are choosing to spend less and less time with them.
'It's as if parents will do anything for their children except be with them,' one headteacher told me. 'Children are often starved of parental time but materially pampered. It's a form of neglect.' According to the Office of National Statistics, a typical working mother spends as little as 19 minutes a day with her children; working fathers even less.
Time-neglect is what child psychologists call it, and they are studying its effect in middle-class families with increasing concern.
'We are seeing some of the most privileged and yet in some ways the most neglected children in history,' says child psychologist Dr Richard House, from the University of Roehampton.
We have some of the longest working hours in Europe and the recession is piling pressure on parents to be the last to leave the office. The guilt parents feel about this has consequences for when they are with their children.
'Parents are reluctant to say "No" when they need to. They try to compensate by lavishing gifts on them. Neither is good for children's knew? Working spend an well-being and healthy development,' says Dr House.
His warnings follow a Unicef report that admonished British parents for trapping their children in a 'cycle of compulsive consumerism' by showering them with toys and designer labels rather than time.
SOMETHING the TV Christmas advert for Littlewoods exemplifies. My complaint about this faux Nativity play is that the mother is seen sating her children's greed rather than meeting their emotional needs as she says 'Yes!' to buying them everything from an Xbox to a laptop.
By my estimate, the 'Luvley Muvva' (as the jingle refers to her), spends more than [pounds sterling]2,000 on her family in the few seconds of the advert. To earn that money, it's unlikely she or her husband would see anything of their children in the run-up to Christmas.
'Our research shows British parents are committed to their children, but lose out on time together as a family due, in part, to long working hours,' said David Bull, the UK Unicef chief executive, when the report was published.
'They often try to make up for this by showering children with gadgets and clothes.' Unicef's research also shows that what children actually want is more stable family time, as do many of the parents struggling to provide for them.
More than two-thirds of mothers work, and no one would want to see the progress women have made in the workplace reversed.
But as one headmistress told me: 'When we crashed through the glass ceiling, none of us imagined the shards that would rain down on our children.' Without adequate support from a partner or a flexible employer, all the anxieties of childcare and the stress of work weigh heavily on working mothers. …