At first, the authors say, “it seems reasonable to expect that parental investment in child-rearing would have declined” since 1965, when 60 percent of all children lived in families with a breadwinner father and a stay-at-home mother. Only about 30 percent of children now live in such families. With more mothers in paid jobs, many policy makers have assumed that parents must have less time to interact with their children.
But, the researchers say, the conventional wisdom is not borne out by the data they collected from families asked to account for their time. The researchers found, to their surprise, that married and single parents spent more time teaching, playing with and caring for their children than parents did 40 years ago.
For married mothers, the time spent on child care activities increased to an average of 12.9 hours a week in 2000, from 10.6 hours in 1965. For married fathers, the time spent on child care more than doubled, to 6.5 hours a week, from 2.6 hours. Single mothers reported spending 11.8 hours a week on child care, up from 7.5 hours in 1965.
On the one hand this is a good sign. But where is the time coming from, that parents have more time with kids? It's not that folks are cutting back on work;Americans are not working less. The NY Times article doesn't mention this, but other studies have argued that the time that adults are carving out for family has been taken away not only from housework (due to advances in technology and efficiency), but also from leisure activities and adult friendships. So parents are spending more time with their kids, but at the expense of larger community and church involvement. We focus on our nuclear families so much that we no longer have time for volunteer work or community service.
The article notes that families are getting smaller and incomes have risen over the past 35 years, so more time and money is devoted to fewer kids. Suburban Christians should beware of the tendency of turning inward to focus on children to the exclusion of outside concerns and ministry. One suburban pastor I talked to told me that the biggest challenge he faces in his suburban church is "the idolatry of children," of suburban parents focusing so much on their kids that kids' activities and development take priority over all other concerns, including church, ministry, witness, etc. Better, probably, to find creative ways of helping our kids join in ministry and mission to and from the suburbs, so that they don't just become self-absorbed and instead learn to focus externally on loving their neighbors as well.