A recent study challenged the widespread opinion that mother’s time spent with children is irreplaceable for their development.
The study tested the behavioral, emotional and academic outcomes using various scales. Time was measured with a seven-day diary in both 1997 and 2002/3.
The authors looked at the effect of mother’s time on children aged three to eleven and adolescents aged twelve to eighteen, thus not providing any information about the first three years of the child. Nevertheless, the results for the age groups that were addressed by the research are provoking: The researchers could not find any statistically significant correlation between the mother’s time spent with the child and the behavioral, emotional or academic outcomes. It did not matter if the mother was only accessible for or engaged with the child.
More significantly, social status resources such as education, income and family structure did matter. Children living in stepfamilies had more behavioral, whilst children with single mothers had more emotional problems.
Additionally, in the adolescent age, the authors found no correlation between the maternal time and the tested outcome, with social status and financial resources showing more influence on the results. In particular, those adolescents whose mother had higher education performed better in reading and in mathematics.
In adolescence, though, when both parents spent time with children in a more engaged way, the authors found less behavioral problems.
The researchers advise that we should see mothering in a more relaxed way, and recommend to mothers who have a child aged between three and eleven to “ease up”. Adolescents may need more interaction with both parents and especially with mothers in order to optimize their well-being.
It is not surprising that these results raised conflicting views most likely because the researchers provoke when proclaiming the “end of the ideology of mothering”. I cannot unfold the discussion here, and would assume that the results certainly need to be verified by further studies. Nevertheless, the time spent with children does seem to be overestimated as a criterion, and the study confirmed the importance of education and social status for the well-being of children. The study further confirmed that behavioral and emotional problems, as well as difficulties in academic performance, occur less with adolescent children of married couples than with those growing up in stepfamilies or single- mother households.
The study is a plea for de-intensifying mothering time, but it could also be seen as a plea for better education. Consequently, it requests policies in intensifying efforts to educate citizens rather than letting the individual mother bearing all the pressure.
Source: Milkie, Melissa A., Namaguchi, Kei M. & Denny Kathleen E. (2015). Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend With Children or Adolescents Matter? Journal of Marriage and Family 77, 335 – 372.