keeping someone company

If you haven’t already read it, you should definitely check out this article from the New York Times a week or two back: Surprisingly, Family Time Has Grown. Journalist Tara Parker-Pope discusses a new study and its unexpected finding: despite today’s increased work hours and crazy schedules, parents today spend more time with their children than past generations did, not less. The survey only tracked times in which a parent was actively involved with his or her child:

“It’s taking them to school, helping with homework, bathing them, playing catch with them in the back yard,” said a co-author of the leisure-time paper, Erik Hurst, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “Those are the activities that have increased over the last 15 to 20 years.”

For me, the takeaway from the article was a refreshing dose of you’re-not-so-bad-after-all-Mom. Then I read this letter to the editor a few days later, and Ms. Maggie McGirr has a point:

I was a little sad but not surprised to read that time spent “around” one’s children was excluded from the category of “family time”… When I was a little girl, it was called “keeping someone company” and it was always a comfort… Maybe one day the experts, too, will count it as time well spent.

My grandmother always called it “keeping someone company,” too, and when we were little, it was enough. I played with my Barbies while Gram did her needlepoint. I practiced the piano while my mother made dinner. The presence of an adult was always pleasant and reassuring, but I never expected the adults in my life to figure out what I was going to do next, or to facilitate my good times.


These days, apparently, it’s not good enough to be in the same space as our kids- if we’re not digging in the sandbox with them, it doesn’t count. I don’t think our mothers thought this way. And I think they were better off for it. 


(on a side note: apparently, Maggie McGirr has gotten no less than 35 letters to the NYT editors published in the last decade. This was suspicious enough to the Washington Independent that they launched an investigation last year. But in the end, it seems like she just has a way with words. You go, Ms. McGirr!) 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

meggiemoo April 27, 2010 at 6:20 pm

I agree with you, and I have to constantly remind myself that it's *good* for my kids to be ignored a bit. The hilarious (or sad) thing is that I have to force myself to simply be around my kids rather than always engaging them.

There has been some backlash from my 4-year-old, as he's used to me being his constant playmate. Now I play with him for a few minutes and then say I need to check on something and I'll be back. While I'm doing the other thing (laundry, cooking, etc.), I listen in to what he's doing. Invariably, he develops a very rich story with his toys by himself.

My 1-year-old is (already) far better at amusing herself. I sit on the floor with her and enjoy a book while she plays. It's so nice!

I do still get on the floor and play with my children, and I enjoy it, but I no longer feel like a slave to their every desire. And I think it's healthy that they know that Mom has her own stuff, too.

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Anonymous May 11, 2010 at 8:01 pm

This is so true! I had a great childhood and lovely parents, but I didn't grow up with them "playing" with me 24-7. In the summers, for example, my two brothers and I were expected to play outside most of the time, and we had the run of the neighborhood until dinnertime. Kids don't do that anymore. Times have changed, and that is sad. When I do get down on the floor now to play with my daughter, I do enjoy it. But she is obviously happy if I am sitting on the couch reading a magazine and she is playing. What's wrong with that?! Nothing. I have to give myself a break and realize that she doesn't need me to be with her 24-7!

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