The mothers who spend just 19 minutes a day with their children New statistics reveal pressure work puts on family life
Only one Christmas present given to me as a child has survived into my adult years. It is a handwritten book full of family recipes. All the shop-bought baubles, bangles and Barbies I clamoured for have long gone. But the Marshall Family Recipe Book, compiled by my mother, remains intact all these years later.
It must have taken her hours to write out each recipe in her delicate longhand. My favourite, in the cakes and biscuits section, is a recipe for Grandma Marshall’s shortcrust pastry. No one could make a mince pie like Grandma, though every Christmas my mother and I tried.
The book cost my mother nothing to compile, except time, which is why it has always meant so much to me. The time she invested in it was proof of how much she loved me.
Family dilemma: Anne and Joe Tuite yearn to spend more time with theirdaughter Olivia
But as I approach Christmas, with work deadlines to meet, shopping to do and school carol concerts to get to, time for my three teenage daughters is a commodity of which I’m desperately short. And I’m not the only parent struggling.
For though we clearly love our children just as much as ever, we are choosing to spend less and less time with them.
‘It’s as if parents will do anything for their children except be with them,’ one headteacher told me. ‘Children are often starved of parental time but materially pampered. It’s a form of neglect.’
According to the Office of National Statistics, a typical working mother spends as little as 19 minutes a day with her children; working fathers even less.
Time-neglect is what child psychologists call it, and they are studying its effect in middle-class families with increasing concern.
‘We are seeing some of the most privileged and yet in some ways the most neglected children in history,’ says child psychologist Dr Richard House, from the University of Roehampton.
We have some of the longest working hours in Europe and the recession is piling pressure on parents to be the last to leave the office. The guilt parents feel about this has consequences for when they are with their children.
‘Parents are reluctant to say “No” when they need to. They try to compensate by lavishing gifts on them. Neither is good for children’s well-being and healthy development,’ says Dr House.
“When we crashed through the glass ceiling, none of us imagined the shards that would rain down on our children”
His warnings follow a Unicef report that admonished British parents for trapping their children in a ‘cycle of compulsive consumerism’ by showering them with toys and designer labels rather than time.
Something the TV Christmas advert for Littlewoods exemplifies. My complaint about this faux Nativity play is that the mother is seen sating her children’s greed rather than meeting their emotional needs as she says ‘Yes!’ to buying them everything from an Xbox to a laptop.
/12/22/article-2077236-0EC7F75400000578-644_233x423.jpg” width=”233″ height=”423″ alt=”Pulled from pillar to post: On a typical weekday, Anne is lucky if she gets to spend an hour with her daughter, who is looked after at nursery and by friends” class=”blkBorder” />
Pulled from pillar to post: On a typical weekday, Anne is lucky if she gets to spend an hour with her daughter, who is looked after at nursery and by friends
More than two-thirds of mothers work, and no one would want to see the progress women have made in the workplace reversed.
But as one headmistress told me: ‘When we crashed through the glass ceiling, none of us imagined the shards that would rain down on our children.’
Without adequate support from a partner or a flexible employer, all the anxieties of childcare and the stress of work weigh heavily on working mothers.
And for all our success, what mothers care about most is success at home.
HistorianRebecca Fraser, mother of three daughters and author of A People’s History Of Britain, says that while nostalgia for the Fifties is understandable, the progress of women in education makes a return to that model unlikely.
‘In 1951, only one quarter of the tiny British student population (5 per cent of adults) were women, while in 2011 more than half the student population are female,’ she says.
‘With so many attending university, it is probably inevitable that most women are going to continue to want a career.’
Today, well over half of the legal services are made up of women, and almost 50 per cent of the accountancy sector is female.
Fewerhours in the office would be welcomed by women such as Anne Tuite, a senior retail manager, from Berkshire, who is married and works full-time.
It breaks her heart that she doesn’t see more of her daughter Olivia, 2. Anne says she often drives to work in tears after rushing Olivia out of the house.
“We”re deceiving ourselves if we think we can bring up our children through an iPhone”
‘I simply love being with my daughter and I make sure I’m always there on Sundays,’ she says. ‘But during the week, I worry Olivia is being pushed from pillar to post.’
On a typical weekday, Anne is lucky if she gets to spend an hour with her daughter.
Olivia is woken at 6.30am and dropped off at a friend’s for 7.15am. Anne then goes to work while Olivia stays at nursery until 6pm, when Anne picks her up.
In the evening, there is time for just half an hour’s chat before bath and bed. Anne’s husband Joe, a racehorse trainer, often works seven days a week, is up at dawn and isn’t home until 7pm.
‘I’m doing my very best,’ says Anne. ‘I don’t want not to work — I’d just like to work fewer hours and have more time with Olivia.’
But it’s not just our working patterns that eat up the time. Children start school at an earlier age than in most other countries and have shorter holidays.
And when they’re out of school, they often spend more time on extra-curricular activities paid for by their ambitious parents.
Child-care experts warn that time-neglect by high-achievers can have serious consequences on their children.
Professor Suniya Luthar, a world expert in the welfare of children from affluent homes, has just completed research that shows the numbers of teenagers with significant mental health issues can be up to three times higher among those from high-achieving and prosperous families.
‘Traditionally, the view is that these children have it all, but the pressures on them are immense,’ says Professor Luthar.
‘The solution for any parent is to spend time with them.’
They also need clear boundaries, she says, something that ‘uber-working’ parents often are less able to enforce.
Clarissa Farr, High Mistress of St Paul’s School for Girls in West London, agrees. She has issued a wake-up call to her high-flying parents by starting bespoke after-school parenting seminars.
‘I’m a busy working parent myself, so I know how difficult it can be to spend time with our children,’ says Ms Farr. ‘But there is no substitute for face-to-face time.’
St Paul’s — whose former pupils include Stephanie Flanders, the BBC economics editor, politician Harriet Harman and Alexandra Shulman, editor-in-chief of UK Vogue — started after-school parenting lessons for the mothers and fathers of their 18,000-a-year intake this autumn.
It seems those who can run FTSE 100 companies by day can’t enforce teenage bedtimes by night.
Working parents spend an average of just 36 minutes a day with their children, a survey has found
The course covers even the most basic aspects of modern parenting, such as what pocket money is appropriate. Lessons also include how to deal with exam stress and how to set boundaries for harmonious family life.
Ms Farr also believes modern technology can have a negative impact on family life.
‘We’re deceiving ourselves if we think we can bring up our children through an iPhone,’ she says.
Research over the summer found that almost half of parents have less than five hours to bond with their children each week. And experts say they can see the consequences in middle-class children.
‘One girl told me all she wanted for Christmas was to see more of her parents,’ says child psychologist Vivian Hill, from the Institute of Education. ‘It is my biggest concern that we are sleepwalking into a dysfunctional society because children aren’t learning core values about caring for people and making time for people.
‘I remember, when growing up, “tea-time”, “homework time” and “story-time”. They were natural, and spent with my parents.
‘Now we have the much vaunted “me-time” for parents to spend alone and the much valued “quality time” for parents and children — both forced.’
Christmas is about remembering those who are neglected and, as Professor Suniya Luthar says: ‘Time is the best gift any parent can give.’
I think of that every time I turn the pages of the Marshall Family Recipe Book, and I will remember it as I take the time to bake Grandma Marshall’s mince pies with my mother and three daughters by my side.