WASHINGTON – Miriam Harris can’t help but remember the time her mom spent with her, and she wishes she could spend the same amount of time with her kids.
“My mother was a schoolteacher. The type of career you choose could mean a difference in hours spent [with your kids],” said Harris, who sees her kids for 45 harried minutes on a typical weekday morning and then not again until after 7 p.m.
“I feel like someone else is raising my children,” said the Temple Hills working mother.
But the time has come for working moms to stop feeling so guilty about dividing their time between work and their children, according to a new study by a University of Maryland sociology professor.
The professor, Suzanne M. Bianchi, said that more mothers are working than in the days of an idealized June Cleaver, but that the educational and emotional benefits for kids then and now remain virtually unchanged.
“This research shows that today’s employed moms are just as committed,” Bianchi said in a March 24 address to the Population Association of America, of which she is president. “They value family and time with their children just as much as moms from 25 to 50 years ago.”
She says that modern mothers juggle priorities to compensate for time spent on the job. And they basically deprive themselves of some basic needs and personal luxuries to benefit their children.
Modern moms do less housework, sleep less and enjoy less personal leisure time than their grandmothers, and even their own mothers did, Bianchi said. And working mothers tend to cut back on the number of hours on the job, where it is economically possible to do so, in order to spend time with their kids, she said.
In 1998, only one-third of married moms with preschoolers worked full- time, the study said. It also said that while 80 percent of all women ages 25 to 54 were employed, only half of those women were working full time.
Bianchi said that suggests the “strong possibility that mothers … try to balance paid work and child-rearing.”
Plus, today’s moms dish out more child-rearing responsibilities to fathers than women in generations before them did.
Some experts say that the time that June Cleaver-type mothers spent with their children is overrated, anyway.
“People forget that mothers in the past were milking cows, hanging clothes on the line and beating rugs,” said Kristin Moore, senior scholar at Child Trends, a Washington-based child advocacy organization. “They weren’t actually reading ‘Little House on the Prairie’ with their kids. They were ‘Little House on the Prairie.'”
Moore admits that spending the right amount of quality time with children is important, even though it is a challenge for working mothers. But she added that moms today “should not be in a state of anxiety and guilt.”
“That’s not to say that parents and kids aren’t struggling to get time together,” she said. “I think there’s a middle ground … but, 18 hours a day [of quality time] is probably not necessary.”
For Harris, carving quality time out of her family’s day is a challenge.
On a typical morning, she has just enough time to shower, brush her teeth and make breakfast before she has to get her two kids ready for school.
Jessica, 8, and Dior, 7, eat while dad makes their lunches. They get showered and dressed. Hair is combed, homework is stuffed in backpacks and they’re off. The whole process takes about 45 minutes.
“We’re really racing around in the morning,” said Harris, 33.
Back home around 7 p.m., there is just enough time to make and eat dinner, review homework, watch a little television and get the kids in bed by 9.
“I mean, they spend more time at school and with other people than they do with me,” Harris said.
It is probably natural for working mothers to feel like they should be spending more time with their kids than they are spending with their co-workers. And Harris said it is comforting to see a study that says kids are not worse off now because their moms have to work so much.
But a twinge of guilt will probably always be in the back of her mind, she said. Deep down, she still wishes that, “I could quit working and stay home with my kids.”