Are you a parent who feels guilty for not spending enough time with your kids every day? Perhaps you are chasing money and prestige more than you should. Good news! The average amount of time parents spend with their kids a day is shockingly low!
The amount of time is so low, it makes me question the veracity of the source: OurWorldInData.org. It’s kind of like when you hear the often cited, “40% of Americans can’t come up with the money for a $400 emergency.” Is that really true?
Our World In Data offers the average amount of time parents spend with their children per day in the UK, Canada, France, German, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, and the United States.
The organization was started in 2011 by Max Roser, a development economist at University of Oxford. Although the organization is two years younger than Financial Samurai, I’ll accept it!
The Average Amount Of Time Parents Spend With Their Kids A Day
To guilty-feeling parents everywhere, feast your eyes on the below chart!
The average amount of time university-educated moms spend with their children is 120 minutes a day in America. The average amount of time university-educated dads spend with their children is just 85 minutes a day.
Non-university educated parents spend about 20% less time a day with their children than university-educated parents.
What the hell is going on here? With 24 hours in a day, how can parents be spending, on average, so little time with their under 13-year-old children?
I’m particularly disappointed in how little dads are spending with their children.
A Typical Day For A Working Parent
Let’s say your 4-year-old son wakes up at 7 am. You greet him good morning, let him go to the bathroom, change clothes, and feed him breakfast. That’s about an hour right there.
From 8 am – 8:30 am, you read him stories and play a few games with him. We’re now at the 1.5 hour mark.
At 8:30 am you drop him off at preschool, even though there’s a global pandemic with new strains. You pick him up at 4 pm and go for a walk after giving him a quick snack. Then you play with him from 4:30 pm until 6:30 pm. You’ve now spent four hours with your son.
He eats dinner for 30 minutes with you and then it’s another 40 minutes of play time before bath and teeth brushing time. You read him a story before going to bed at 8 pm.
Tally it up and you’ve spent a total of 5.5 hours with your son who also goes to preschool. That’s 330 minutes versus the average of 55 – 125 minutes a day.
A Typical Day For A Stay At Home Parent
Now let’s say you are a stay at home parent with a 3-year-old who does not yet go to school. Your day may start at 7 am and end at 8 pm. That’s 13 hours or 780 minutes of time spent with your child.
Let’s say your spouse or a grandparent helps out for four hours a day. That’s still 9 hours or 540 minutes of time spent with your child a day.
Or let’s say both spouses retired early. Even if you split the time 50/50, that’s still 6.5 hours or 390 minutes of time with your child spent a day.
If your child happens to not sleep through the night, you could add another 1-3 hours of time spent at night soothing your child to an already 13-hour day!
Perhaps Spending Lots Of Time With Your Kids Doesn’t Matter
Even though the data seems off, let’s say the data is totally legit. Here are some conclusions from the data:
- You no longer need to feel guilty spending so little time with your kids. If you only spend three hours a day with your kids as a mom, you are spending 50% more than the average time a college-educated mom spends with her kids. Instead of feeling guilty, give yourself a big pat on the back! Most kids turn out fine on less than two hours a day spent with their parents before age 13.
- Having two stay at home parents is an overkill. It’s better to have at least one parent go to work full-time to improve the household’s finances. After all, a working parent can still spend 3 hours a day with their child, which would still be 100% longer than the average college-educated dad and 50% longer than the average college-educated mom.
- Perhaps having one stay at home parent is overkill too. Denmark is consistently considered the happiest country in the world. With the average amount of time parents spend on their kids at 150 minutes and and 115 minutes for college-educated moms and dads, we can conclude that 115 – 150 minutes is the gold standard. A stay at home parent spending 2X – 5X more time with their kids is unnecessary.
- Being a stay at home parent when your kids are in school is unnecessary. School often lasts for six to seven hours. Then there’s after school activities and hanging out with friends. Spending 150 minutes of time with your children before and after work is probably the most your children will want to spend with you once they are in their teens anyway.
Don’t Feel Guilty Working Instead Of Parenting
I still think an optimal parenting / work solution, if possible, is to be a stay at home parent for the initial two to three years of a child’s life. After all, doctors say the first five years are the most important years for child development. Two to three years is not that long of a period of time to be out of the work force.
By three, you can send your child off to preschool. Once in school, it’s easier to go back to work full time. You shouldn’t have too much difficulty finding a decent job after two to three years.
Even if you can’t take two to three years off of work to care for your child, you can still spend at least 50% more time than the average amount of time an American parent spends with their child a day.
Times are damn hard for working parents during a global pandemic. However, the silver lining, at the margin, is parents are spending more time with their children. Even if it’s just 30 more minutes a day on average, that’s at least a 20% increase.
Beat The Median And Average
What I’ve come to realize is that the median or average in various facets of life isn’t that high. Therefore, it should be relatively easy to outperform and get ahead if you want to.
For example, according to an older Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, the median retirement savings by age in the U.S. is:
- 20s: $16,000
- 30s: $45,000
- 40s: $63,000
- 50s: $117,000
- 60s: $172,000
Surely, the large majority of Financial Samurai readers will be able to crush these median retirement savings by age.
In another example, below is a chart that shows the median and average 401(k) balances by age in the shaded grey columns versus my recommendations.
Once again, I’m positive the majority of personal finance enthusiasts will be able to surpass both the median and average 401(k) balances by age.
Given the average amount of time parents spend with their children is so low, it should be fairly easy to become more involved parents. This is especially true now that we know the baseline 55 – 125 minutes per day.
Once we know the baseline or some specific figures to shoot for, we do a much better job at improving.
The Struggle To Be A Good Father
Since my son was born in 2017, I’ve struggled to feel like a good father. Goodness knows I’ve tried my best to spend as much time with him as possible as a stay at home dad.
I’ve read all the books about childcare, taken him to all the parks, gone for hours-long walks, read to him, played with him, and loved him as much as a dad could.
Unfortunately, I’m always second fiddle to mom, who is also a stay at home parent. This is one of the downsides when both parents are stay at home parents.
When our son was in preschool, there was a lot more balance and appreciation. Every time I picked him up from school, he would shout the loudest “Daddddddddy!” when he saw me.
Now, that appreciation has greatly diminished. Despite the rebuffs, I kept on trying because I felt guilty if I didn’t spend at least 4-5 hours a day with him. After all, I finish my writing by 9 am each morning. Further, he hasn’t been in preschool since March 2020.
My wife thinks his behavior is partially due to his struggles with having a younger sibling. Instead of being the sole focus of attention, now he has to compete for our time. Young kids sure can get jealous of a sibling.
My wife spends most of her childcare hours with both kids simultaneously. Therefore, our son’s desire for mommy’s attention is heightened. He wants sole focus.
Good thing I can now spend time taking care of my 14-month old daughter when my son isn’t interested. Hooray!
Much Less Guilt After Seeing The Data
After seeing this data on how much time parents spend with their kids a day, I no longer feel bad only spending 180 to 300 minutes a day with him. That’s 3X – 4X the average for fathers in America.
Therefore, after my 180 – 300 minutes a day of childcare is up, I will now feel guilt-free to do whatever I want. Besides, forcing my son to spend more than 180 – 300 minutes of childcare with me is too much. He wants diversity.
I tend to overdo many things I do. I can’t stand just putting in the average amount of effort when I have the energy to do more. But in this case, it’s good to throttle my efforts to maintain harmony. I can also channel my efforts to providing more for my family.
It’s go time to earn as much as possible until there is herd immunity. Then it’s back to the early retirement lifestyle I so long for.
You’re Spending More Time With Your Kids Than You Think
I hope most parents feel better about their parenting now. Most of us are giving way more attention and love than the average parent. Therefore, we should be proud of our efforts instead of ashamed.
It feels like evolution has made it so that one parent needs to always be earning to ensure the survival of our species. Therefore, if you are the parent successfully bringing home the bacon, feel great about your contribution.
And if you can do so by not having to work due to your passive income investments, then more power to you. Spend your free time doing whatever you darn please!
Finding a balance between childcare and other activities is vital for long-term happiness.
Readers, what is the average amount of time you spend with your children a day? Do you believe the data? For older children (14+), I can see how spending two hours a day is the average. But for young children, there’s just no way.