Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

Parenting – It All Comes Down to Distribution

By: Vincent Weaver

A friend of mine – “Daniel” – has been a Marine for a long time.  He has been to Afghanistan and many other parts of the world, and his primary job in the Marines has been supply-chain management.  How do we get the right amount of stuff from here to there as efficiently and effectively as possible precisely when we need it?  Supply-chain management can be complicated, and in the case of the Marines – it can be a matter of life and death.  Fortunately for the Marines (and for our country), there are guys like Daniel who are experts at this.

I’ve had many conversations with Daniel about life, in general.  Without a hint of sarcasm or intended humor, he often reflects that everything in life comes down to “distribution”.  Poverty?  It’s a food distribution issue.  Education?  Teacher and resource distribution.  Crime? Law enforcement distribution.  Health care?  Medicine and health care worker distribution.  As simplistic as this life theorem sounds, there’s something to be said for this philosophy.

So, what about raising kids well?  Does the “distribution-model” work with that?  I would argue that it does, indeed.  Oftentimes when a child is born, his or her parents look at him and smile.  They think to themselves, “This is the cutest, the smartest, the most amazing child who ever lived!”  No parent ever says, “I want to raise rotten kids.”  The intentions are usually good, but the results sometimes aren’t.  That mystifies many parents (and others), but maybe an overview of supply-chain management would help shed light on these undesirable outcomes.

The supply chain starts with raw materials followed by an analysis of what we do with those inputs.  What are the raw materials involved in raising kids?  Well, there’s the kid (so that covers the “nature” component), but there’s so much more – everything else is the “nurture” component.  Education, experiences, attitudes of the parents, social encounters, and memorable moments all play into this, but here’s the biggie – TIME.

As a raw material, how is time leveraged with the child?  There are two parts to this question, actually: 1) How is the child spending his/her time? 2) How are the parents spending THEIR time?  Again, we’re back to distribution.  Many parents say their kids are really (really!) important to them.  However, you spend (or “distribute”) your time based on what really (really!) matters to you. 

Let’s assume there are two parents in the home.  Between the two of them, that’s 336 hours/week (168 times two parents).  Even if both work 45 hrs/week (90 hrs) and both sleep (98 hours – hey, it could happen), that still leaves 148 possible hours to spend with one’s child(ren).  Think about that for a moment. 148 hours. Every. Week.

So how do parents actually spend (or “distribute”) these 148 hours?  Findings in different studies vary, but a typical distribution might look like this: 42 hours doing chores around the house; 50 hours on leisure activities (i.e. recreation, watching TV, surfing the Internet, reading, working out, etc.); and about 10 hours (both parents combined) with their kids.  (About half of that time is spent in direct engagement with the child(ren), with the other half being time with the child as a secondary activity – like going to the grocery store, post office, etc.  A slightly different breakdown of time spent can be found here.)

10 hours.  Out of 148.  Without editorializing on this statement, make note of this fact – parents – you are the single greatest influence on your child’s risk-taking behavior.  Based on the largest, most comprehensive study ever done on risk factors for children, the NIH “Adolescent Health Study” – this was the key finding: “The major finding of the study so far was that adolescents who reported a “connectedness” to their parents were the least likely to engage in risky behaviors, said Dr. Bachrach. These young people felt close to their parents, felt their parents and family members cared for them, and were satisfied with their family relationships. To a lesser extent, adolescents were also protected by their parents being present at key times during the day–in the morning, after school, at dinner, and at bedtime–and by sharing activities with their parents. Adolescents whose parents had high expectations for their children’s school performance also reported fewer indicators for emotional distress, such as depression or suicide attempts.”  (More on that study can be found here.)

The Single. Greatest. Influence. Not their peers – not their teachers – not the media – YOU. Knowing that, do you think this distribution pattern is adequate to make the most of that influence?  Or, are we as parents abdicating that unique authority?

Next week, we’ll look at some GOOD news regarding time parents are spending with kids these days, as well as some ideas for making the most of your influence.

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