Parenting has evolved over the years. In the last few decades, we’ve seen a shift from the parent’s role as the ultimate authority figure to one of trusted confidante. We’ve also seen a shift in how parents spend time with their kids.
Parents are now more actively involved in their kids’ lives, shuttling them to school and various extracurricular activities to bolster their education and keep them entertained.
They call it “intensive parenting.”Essentially, it’s a hands-on parenting style with a decidedly child-centered approach.
Many parents have little choice but to rely on child care in all its forms to keep the kids busy.
For some families, intensive parenting, with its focus on enrichment activities, is unavoidable. Within the United States, working parents make up at least 46 percent of parents, according to the Pew Research Center. Many parents have little choice but to rely on child care in all its forms to keep the kids busy.
About two years ago, that was me. Working a full-time job, my life was a blur of shuttling my kids from lesson to lesson, tag-teaming with my husband (who also worked full-time) to coordinate drop-offs and pick-ups.
I often felt guilty for not being able to spend quality time with my kids. And like other parents, I felt pressure from society to do more and give more to my kids.
“[The pressure] starts really early on, from the time that they’re born,” explains Nani Vishwanath, a Seattle mother of a 2-year-old boy, “There’s a lot of beliefs out there about how children should be raised.”
“I feel like there’s always some sort of judgment on the things that you want to do [with your kids],” adds Latima Charbonneau, mother of a 16-month-old, “and there’s pressure to do things the right way.”
For me, the guilt came in the form of questions. Am I spending enough time with my kids? Am I too focused on work? Am I engaged enough with my kids?
It became exhausting. I quickly realized how unsustainable intensive parenting can be. Not only are parents tired from the constant activities, but so are the kids.
Jennifer Kelty, executive director of The Children’s Center at Burke Gilman Gardens, agrees. She worries about the effects intensive parenting can have on kids.
“I see a lot of kids these days who are over-scheduled,” explains Kelty. She cautions parents to avoid over-extending themselves and over-engaging with their kids. Instead, she suggests focusing on simple, yet consistent, activities to do with kids.
“Having consistent routines or rituals with kids can be very helpful,” offers Kelty. They help to become something that kids can rely on, she adds.
About a year ago, I quit my full-time job. I now work part-time so I can homeschool my kids. These days, we focus on quality rather than quantity. Instead of trying to fill as many activities as we can into one day, we focus on one or two that we can do together without distractions.
While I’m not advocating that all parents should quit their jobs, I am advocating for a change in perspective. The most important part of parenting isn’t in how much time we spend with our children, but in how we spend that time with them.
Let’s worry less about what our kids will learn and focus more on deepening our bond with them.