I was asked what the right amount of time to spend with our kids is, and I can't answer that question. Every person and every relationship is different. But what I can say is that to build a life together requires time and purpose. For sure we need a little play time with our kids, but most of the time working with our children is the ideal. How to do this well depends entirely on the work you do.
Figuring out how to fit children into our work is literally The Challenge of parenting. When Anders was a baby I mostly cooked, cleaned, did yard work, and errands. He fit perfectly into this work. When he got older I spent time writing, and he fit perfectly into this work. There was a period of adjustment while we learned to do our work together, but we always figured it out.
Children learn the work they are exposed to. Children of shoe-makers can make shoes at a very young age. Children of hunters can hunt at a very young age. Though they are exploration oriented rather than goal oriented, children constantly surprise me with their competence at things no one thinks a child their age can do (see this videos of Anders cooking breakfast when he was barely two-years-old https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNRroZ1gcMo).
That being said, I have not yet figured out how to fit Anders in to Tom's work life at his office, but then, I have never tried. I imagine that if that was our goal, Anders and I would need a month and then we would figure out how to be helpful at Tom's office. Or maybe it wouldn't work out, and we would decide to start Anders on office work when he was seven or so as people have in the past. This is why having two parents is a lot easier than having one. Though having twenty, as the hunter-gatherer groups or the extended family arrangements of the past had, would be even better.
But onto what I know that may possibly be helpful to other parents today.
Infants are awake ten to twelve hours a day. That means a minimum 70-hour work week for the stay-at-home parent or 35-hours a week for each parent. Having a baby is not one, but TWO full time jobs.
In less than a year, the infant sleeps less and becomes an even bigger time commitment–84 hours a week. That only lasts a year or two, and then the energetic preschooler is awake for 98 to 112 hours a week depending on sleep habits. That is THREE full time jobs.
No parent is "working" with the child every minute it is awake. The child will get involved in Doing Something and that leaves the parent time to care for the child in other ways–cooking and cleaning.
Either way, a stay-at-home parent cannot be expected to work 112 hours a week and not become extremely unhappy or insane. Neither can two parents split the work equally while also maintaining a 40-hour week outside the home without the same consequences.
A century ago history was not studied gratuitously. No one memorized dates and facts. We looked to other times (and other places) to see how our fellow human beings solved the problems we were up against. So–
In the average hunter-gatherer group, infants were in the care of others for four hours each day, which means Mom got four hours "off" each day. She slept with her baby at night, so they spent on average 20 hours each day together, 6-8 of which were awake.
By the time a child was two or three it joined in play with the other children. The children's playgroup was overseen by the grandparents. Mom, no longer needing to nurse her baby throughout the day, was often three miles away gathering food with the other women of the tribe. This mom got four to six hours "off" each day. She still slept with her baby at night, so she spent, on average, 18 hours with her child, about 6-8 of which were awake.
Similarly, in many times and places in the past, children were raised in extended families. The main caretakers of the very young were the older-young (kids 8-12) and the old (grandparents).
In fact, evolutionary scientists argue that humans would not live as long as they do if it did not contribute to the survival of the young. Most animals do not live long after their children are grown and have children of their own. But human grandparents (and especially grandmothers) made such important contributions to the survival of their grandchildren (by caring for them and freeing their mothers to gather more food) humans evolved to live longer and longer.
Evolutionarily speaking, grandparents exist to be of service to their grandchildren. Today the opposite is generally true. Grandparents do not serve their grandchildren but rather TAKE from them in the time and resources that they take from the child's parents. It is not surprising at all that we are seeing a fall in average lifespan.
It is insane to me that any grandparent would take from his or her grandchildren, and yet I hear nothing but demands from grandparents. Grandparents often see themselves as "matriarchs" and "patriarchs" of a clan whom everyone should bend over backward to care for and please. But, as I said in my last piece, I believe this is a mistake.
Those over 70, whose brains function at the same speed as a 5-year-old, are not and should not be the leaders of their clan. They should be advisors who serve the current leaders. This is how I plan to do it anyway. (For more on this idea, see http://roslynross.blogspot.com/2016/07/living-right-story-parents-as-kings-and.html#comments)
But, though I can be that contributing-grandparent for my children one day, I don't have that for myself, and I imagine you don't either. In a world without contributing Grandparents (and older cousins) to help the young couple with a baby, how is a couple to survive their 112-hour a week time commitment (not to mention the other 40 to 80 hours a week required to acquire money for food and shelter!) without going insane or becoming severely depressed or turning to government schools because after working 112 hours a week for six years they are so desperate for relief?
Tangent: I highly recommend thinking this out BEFORE you have kids. Better yet, think this out before you graduate from college. Because, if you think you will have kids one day, instead of focusing on the perfect job, maybe move to a place where you have the most social capital–i.e. make finding people who share your parenting ideals a priority, live near them, and create your life/income stream there.
But enough of these ideals, here is what I actually did to survive my first 4 1/2 years with Anders:
*Note my arrangement with my husband is that I am 100% responsible for Anders's care. Tom has an extremely demanding job and though spending time with Anders is a priority for him, I must plan my life to never rely on it. On average, I get three to five hours a week off from Tom, which, brings my work load from 112 hours-a-week to 107 on a good week. I am not complaining here; I am very happy with our arrangement, especially now (on the farm). I was less happy with it when we lived in Los Angeles for reasons I will make clear below, and even less happy when I expected him to pull a certain number of hours per week and was constantly frustrated when his job got in the way.
When Anders was an infant I followed RIE parenting methods and had plenty of time off as Anders entertained himself for long periods of time. Long attention spans and ability to play independently from infancy are two of the things RIE teaches.
*Note that "attachment parenting" is the style of parenting that is quite well-known in respectful parenting circles, and I do not advocate it at all. Here is a post I wrote about it: http://roslynross.blogspot.com/2015/02/attachment-parenting.html
When I needed time out of the house by myself, I hired a babysitter.
When Anders got older, I became friends with a RIE teacher who had four children, one of whom was a 10-year-old girl. She became a "mother's helper" for me. I hired her to come to my house to play with Anders while I rested.
I tried not to hire babysitters to "get work done." Work is something I tried to do with Anders. I "played" with him very little. Rather, I "brought him to life with me." As I said above, Anders helped me cook, clean, do errands, yard work, and make social calls. He made everything take twice as long as it would have taken otherwise, but he also made everything a lot more interesting and was extremely cute about it. I actually really hated doing errands before Anders. With Anders, errands became much more tolerable because even though I loathe the activity, at least I had someone I loved to do it with.
I did hire plenty of babysitters at this age. Anders generally slept for around 9 hours every night, leaving me with a 15-hour day. I found that a twelve hour day was doable for me, but 15 made me cranky. So I tried to make sure I got 3-4 hours off each day to take care of myself.
When I hired babysitters, I always looked for people who knew nothing about children, but were willing to read the books I gave them. (As the people who "knew" things about children generally were the opposite of what I wanted in a babysitter!)
One babysitter I used in emergencies (after Anders was 2) was YouTube. See my Anders Playlist on my YouTube channel here:
I took videos of Anders and made a playlist that lasted 60 minutes. There were also a few movies out there that I think are okay for kids at this age. See the list here:
I tried used these as babysitters sparingly though, about once a week.
At this age I also read the Little House books to Anders, and they helped me to feel a lot better about my extremely hour-intensive work-week.
I moved to a farm in Nicaragua. Here, maids and cooks cost a dollar an hour, so I have virtually no cooking or cleaning responsibilities.
And the kids who live on the farm across the street come over to play every day. One is 5, her name is Jesslyn. Her brother takes care of her and is always with her. He is 12, and his name is Yesnir. Moises and Ramon, from a different family nearby, also come over, but not every day. The kids join Anders in watching the workers; they swim; they run around; they pick fruit they can reach; they pick carrots; they paint; they play legos; sometimes they find a way to help the workers with a project; they play with the dog, the cats, and give treats to the chickens; they helped feed the cow when we had one. When they are ready to sit down, they ask me for their workbooks. They think their math and reading Kumon workbooks are super fun. We also play board games, do puzzles, and lots of brain teasers. We are watching the Families of the World series on my computer. They also love the documentaries we own. We watch these sporadically, maybe every third or fourth day.
Most days here the kids play for four to eight hours, so I get plenty of time off. Do I worry about the local kids' influence on Anders? Not very much. They are very respectful kids. They are more tough and less empathetic than I am raising Anders to be, but because Anders gets plenty of exposure to empathy and compassion with me and at camps in the US, I think the exposure to the tougher kids may be a good thing. Also they are almost always at my house where I can make requests regarding their behavior which makes me more comfortable as well! But we will see as time goes on.
Here at the farm Anders and I get to see a lot more of Tom, and that is another reason why our life here is really working out.
At this age, the work I do is managing the workers, overseeing construction, shopping for decorating, and writing. Anders now does these things with me. When I want to write, I tell Anders, and he says he is going to write too and works on his little scribble books for an hour at a time. The result is that he is very motivated to learn to read and write. I also spend time each week computing hours and wages and paying our workers. He fits perfectly into this work, siting patiently and watching while I count money and put it into envelopes. The result of this is that he is very motivated to be better at math. He often walks around the construction area with paper and pen and "takes notes" about improvements that need to be made. He is less interested in the decorating, but is very good at it–his opinion is valuable.
When Anders and I travel to Los Angeles, he does camps–theater camp and gymnastics camp last spring. This summer he will do a Montessori summer camp. A camp day is six hours long. Six hours is the maximum number of hours I would want Anders to be raised by other people (for now). Unless it was a close friend who I knew shared similar values maybe.
When baby number two comes (hopefully in late 2017), now that I live here at the farm, I think it will not be nearly as hard. Baby 2 will be so lucky to have not just me to bond with as an infant, but a whole farm full of people. Not to mention that Anders idealizes Yesnir and hopes to take care of his little sister the way Yesnir takes care of his. (In Anders's head it is definitely a sister.) I am SO glad that I have waited five years for baby number 2. I will let you know how it works out, but right now it feels very ideal.