An interesting article in the Daily Mail talks about how much time, or should I say how little, parents in the United Kingdom spend with their children. It's fascinating reading and shows the steep price families in UK pay in having both parents work full-time in order to handle large mortgages and expensive housing. It's the UK Office for National Statistics who has made the survey to better understand adult habits. The results are worse than I could ever have imagined. Parents who work full-time spend just 19 minutes every day "caring for [their] own children", according to the survey. A further 16 minutes is spent looking after their children as a "secondary activity", like when parents do grocery shopping or cook.
19 minutes a day? That is absolutely nothing. You barely have time to have a basic conversation with your children in this time. I must really question the point of having children when you see them this little. Parents see their pets more than that. The English don't only have to deal with expensive housing, they also work long hours, and many have to deal with horrible commutes. Almost like the situations some families face in California and NYC. UK is not known for being a family friendly country, far from, and I think this clearly shows where the priorities are. Basically most things seem more important than the children. Not surprisingly, "Just six per cent wanted to work full-time", and "half wanted to combine bringing up their children with a part-time job, while more than a quarter wanted to be a full-time mother."
I've personally never had the desire to be a "weekend dad" who barely see the kids during the week. I would not make decisions that forced me into such situation. But it can be difficult to combine family and work in many occupations and countries. I've had lots of luck to have a prestigious job with short hours, obscene amounts of vacations, and almost unlimited parental leave (send hate mail to ad@AdventureDad.com). But I could also make twice or three times what I do now and see my family less but that doesn't interest me at all. There is a day here and there when I don't see my son during the evening because of some work event or dinner with friends but it's not often. I spend enough time with Daniel to never feel guilty when I can't be home and spend time with him. And that feels great. The survey talks about how much mothers work, much less than the men, but if the 19 minutes is an average I can just imagine how little the UK men see their children. I'm generalizing a bit but the UK men are known for not being very interested in helping out at home or interacting with their children. I know this from personal experience. It's not manly in UK to stay home and change diapers or burp your child. Better to go down to the pub or watch some football.
Families here in Sweden often have both parents working in order to make ends meet. It's an extremely small percentage that can afford to have one parent home longer than the regular 18 months parental leave. We are privileged and have chosen to have Sandra stay at home without working. But of course she takes care of many household duties and cared for Daniel during his first 18 months. With the help of me during 9 of those months. Most families here have their children at day care for long hours. At least I think so. It's common to have the kids at day care from 8 or 9 am until 4 or 5 pm. We have Daniel at day care from 9 to 3 pm. a couple of days, 9-1 pm. a couple of days, and he usually spends one full day at home every week. That has worked out very well for us and gives us a chance to get some things done during the day but also exposes Daniel to other kids and teaches him important social skills. But regardless how long people have their children at daycare in Sweden, I can assure you that they are spending many times more than 19 minutes a day with their kids. I really can't get over how little that is.
The article mentions that "A further 16 minutes is spent looking after their children as a "secondary activity", but this means that they are doing something else – such as the weekly supermarket shop – at the same time." It seems like they are discounting this time and making it worth less than one on one time. I'm not sure I agree with this. I think it's very important to include children in everyday practical activities and I really enjoy spending time with my son while doing something else. And so does he. We go shopping together, wash the car, clean up the basement, mop the floor, vacuum, clean the bikes or the car, or take out the trash together. I love spending time together in this way since I'm doing something with my son. We're not just sitting around talking, we are doing some useful activity as a team. But it takes lots of patience since my son's "helping" many times means an activity takes twice as long.
Some other interesting things from the article is that the normal UK person seem to sleep an awful lot. Average seems to be just over eight hours a night which seems high to me. I never sleep eight hours. Not even when I'm on vacation. It's not because my son is awake or I'm too busy, I'm well rested if I get 7 hours and rather do other things than sleep. Like wild sex:-)) Another observation from the article is that parents spend an average of almost three hours a day watching TV or DVD and read very little. "A woman will spend 8.3 hours asleep, 2.4 hours watching television, DVDs or videos and 2.2 hours working. A man will spend eight hours asleep, 2.8 hours watching television, DVDs or videos and 3.5 hours working. Just 24 minutes in 24 hours is spent reading, a figure which drops to just 10 minutes for younger people." Three hours of TV seems like a lot. Can that have something to do with not spending time with the children? How about turning of the TV and do a little reading with the children instead?
Most UK parents want to spend more time with their children and work less. And who doesn't? It may sound silly but it's a question about priorities. I was positively surprised today when I read about Drummond Hall, CEO of one of Britain's biggest companies, and his decision to step down from his job. Why? He wants to spend more time with his 14-month old daughter. He says, "My daughter was born just 14 months ago and I want to watch her growing up and not miss that. I have been on the board for a long stint of time now". This solution is of course not possible for everyone but it's about priorities. Most people can't have it all and have to make compromises. Unfortunately, it seems like the UK children place rather low on the priority list.
How much time do you spend with your children? Do you feel like it's enough?
Give your children a big hug tonight and let them know how much you love them. Who knows how long you or they will be around?!
Have a nice weekend!!
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