Study, shmudy: Can parents EVER spend enough time with their kids?

Finally, some good family news: Today’s parents are spending more time with their kids than ever before, according toa new study. A review of more than five decades of data finds that, since the 1990s, mothers (and now fathers!) are devoting more time to their children.

There are a lot of interesting findings: The gains were especially higher among college-educated parents. Fathers with college degrees are spending twice as much time with their kids today than they were in 1995. And the study’s authors, who’ve dubbed the trend “The Rug Rat Race,” actually suggest a more competitive college admissions landscape is behind the trend:

Increased scarcity of college slots appears to have induced heightened rivalry among parents, taking the form of more hours spent on college preparatory activities. In other words, the rise in childcare time resulted from a “rug rat race” for admission to good colleges.

Parents are spending far more time with their kids than they were a decade ago, a new study shows. But can it ever really be enough?

But it was a quote in the New York Times’ health blog post about the study that got me thinking. Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute in New York, said: “It’s a function of people working so hard, and they are worried they’re shortchanging their children. I’ve never found a group of parents who believe they are spending enough time with their kids.”

Which makes me ask: Can parents ever spend enough time with their kids?

There are some jobs that can be done well and to a certain degree of certainty – building a house, for example. The angles are right, the roof is sealed, the thing won’t fall over. A job well done.

But parenting isn’t like that. There’s always one more soccer game you could have gone to, one more rainy Saturday afternoon that could have been spent building a pillow fort.You’re never done and even if you are done, how do you know? When your child graduates college? Gets his first job? Gets married? Has kids of her own?

Not having any kids of my own, I imagine this could drive you nuts. But I suppose you just try to get the most out of each day, and live to fight another one.

Which reminds me of something my mom said to me a few weeks ago. She called to tell me that she’d run into a friend at the grocery store whom she hadn’t seen in several years. The woman asked about my brother and me and how we’d “turned out.”

“I said, ‘lovely!'” my mom told me, which may or may not be true, but she relayed it with a sufficient degree of believability. And then she asked me, “But wait, are you done? Have you ‘turned out’ one way or the other?”

Kids aren’t turkeys. There’s no pop-up thermometer. And to the extent that we’re ever “fully cooked,” it’s probably not as soon as you’d think.

So spend as much time as you can with your kids, and congrats — a new study says you’re doing a better job at that than ever. And when they’ve graduated and moved to Chicago, call them and tell them stories like that one.

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