Time, Opportunity Cost, and Kids

'Time' photo (c) 2008, Alan Cleaver - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
A fundamental premise of Economics is that everything has an opportunity cost. If I buy a chocolate bar, I’m not buying a pop with that money. So the opportunity cost of the chocolate bar is whatever I could have bought–a can of pop, 20 jujubes, two stamps, whatever.

But while we’re used to opportunity cost when it comes to money, we don’t tend to think of it when it comes to time. And yet the time crunch can be just as acute as the budget crunch. As commenter Valleygirl said earlier this week (and I paraphrase), why do we yearn so much for those bygone years of sitting on the porch, and then overschedule our lives so much that we have no time for it?

When you schedule your own lives, or your kids’ lives, with many activities, you’re simultaneously denying them whatever else they could have done with that time. There is an opportunity cost.

So much for Economics. Now let’s turn to Math. Let’s look at how much disposable time the average mom with school-aged kids has in the course of a week. We’ll be nice and even assume that she doesn’t have an outside job, to give her as much time as possible.

Weekday mornings, before school, are a write off. You rush around and get the kids on the bus or out the door. Not really quality time. Then they’re at school, usually home around 4:00. So let’s begin our day at 4. Most kids are in bed by 9, so that leaves 5 hours per weekday.

On the weekends, let’s give you 12 hours a day, with 12 for sleeping. Over the course of the week, that gives you 49 hours. For comparison’s sake, the kids spend about 40 hours in school and with school peers. So it’s almost even.

Now let’s start being realistic:

Time spent making dinner, doing laundry, cleaning up, mopping the floor, and other housework that can’t wait: 1 hour a day (and I’m being nice. It’s probably more). Down to 42 hours.

Time spent doing homework with your child: 1 hour a day (this can include anything that goes into organizing them for school). Down to 35 hours.

Time spent on meetings or with other adults. Chances are you have at least one during the week: a committee meeting, a small-group meeting, an evening out with the girls, dinner out with your husband, whatever: 3 hours a week. Down to 32 hours.

Time your child spends in front of some sort of screen. The average child spends 3.5 hours a day in front of either a video game, computer, or television. But let’s be nice. Let’s say it’s only 1.5 hours a day. Down to 22 hours.

Time your child spends bathing, getting dressed, cleaning their room, or looking after him or herself. 1/2 hour a day, or 3 hours a week. Down to 19 hours.

So in a family with no play dates, no working mother, very little technology addiction, and no lessons only gets 19 hours a week of quality time when people aren’t doing housework, aren’t in a meeting, aren’t taking a shower, and aren’t making dinner. That’s 19 hours when you can potentially hang out with your child, take a walk, play a game, do a hobby in the same room, talk, or spend time together. I would guess that for many families it’s less than that.

Note, too, that schools get 40 hours. Schools have 40 hours, you have 19. How are you going to spend those 19? Some of them are going to be spent eating dinner as a family. Some will be spent in church (I counted that as quality family time, though chances are for most of that your children won’t be with you). You don’t have a lot of time to work with.

And in those 19 hours you have to teach them to do chores, to become independent, to love God, to be responsible, to not give in to peer pressure, to handle money well, to be nice to their friends, and to get along with their siblings. That’s a heavy task.

So let’s look at it from another point of view. What is it that you want your child to be like as an adult? What are the most important things for you to pass on? If I were to rank them, I would say this:

1. Love Jesus
2. Be able to form close personal relationships (including, I hope, marriage and motherhood)
3. Be independent, able to get a job when they need one and able to care for their own homes.
4. Be responsible with money and personal possessions
5. Be generous.
6. Adopt healthy attitudes and behaviours (including fitness).

Perhaps some are out of order. Obviously I would like them to reach all of those goals. But I would rather have a child who is 300 lbs. and who loves Jesus than one who is fit but can’t hold a job and doesn’t know God. So fitness, while it’s important, is lower on the list.

Therefore, if those are my priorities, in that order, how am I working towards them? They’re not automatically going to develop those traits. They need to be taught, nurtured, and mentored in them. They need to be shown, as they hit the teen years, that the culture which preaches against almost all of these things is wrong and not something you want to emulate.

And if your children are in school, you are fighting against a system that for 40 hours a week teaches that God is irrelevant to their lives. It teaches things that are not conducive to forming healthy marriages. It teaches unhealthy attitudes. It does very little to teach responsibility. So not only do you only have 19 hours to teach these things; you need to dedicate some of those hours to explicitly working against what the school is already teaching.

That’s why I’m adamant about family time. It is more important than sports lessons. It is more important than music lessons. You can never get that time back. And the more time your child spends away from your family, the more time he or she spends immersed in a culture which, in many ways, is antithetical to what you believe, especially if you are Christian. Sports may teach discipline, for instance, but they teach it absent from God. They teach it as its own reward, rather than being a spiritual discipline in and of itself. You can become too focused on performance and worth in that arena, rather than on worth as a human being.

On Monday I’m going to add one more thought regarding sports lessons, and one more regarding siblings, but this post is getting long enough as it is. So what do you think? Please, let’s discuss this! Am I off base? Do I have my calculations wrong? Have I left something important out? Let me know!

Comments

  1. Multiple Mom T says:

    >Amen and AMEN!!

  2. >I've done countless time analysis charts over the last few years…and no matter how much my daily or weekly routines change, every chart manages to reveal that things I "want" to do have to be squeezed in. Then I discovered that many of my "need to dos" weren't really needed and many of my "want to dos" were crucial. I had to priortize prioritizing.

    So today, in order to get time to read and comment on this blog post, I had to cut out the time spent on "time analysis". Good choice.

    Contiued Blessings,
    Tim

  3. Barb, sfo says:

    >I think this makes a lot of sense.

    We run up against this problem at Cub/Boy Scouts all the time. Our Scout troop is based at our church, so it's not like a sport where God is "absent" from influence. The boys have opportunities to earn religious awards, do service projects for the church, and more. But parents don't see that Scouting reinforces important things! It's right up there with your list of what you want for your kids: "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent." Can't beat that, and Scouts learn so many life skills. But baseball and soccer are considered so much more important.

  4. Clever Colleen says:

    >What an awesome post. I loved it. In fact, I placed a link to it from my blog and commented over there: http://www.clevercolleen.blogspot.com

  5. >The advantages of homeschooling – we spend more time together, and I don't have to undo what they are being taught at school.

  6. >This is the very reason I would like to homeschool. Not only would I be able to spend the time teaching my children the values that are so important to me, but I would also just be with them more & I really enjoy their company. So far my husband isn't ready to homeschool. I refuse to nag him into but I sure do a lot of praying.

  7. >Personally, I think you were TOO nice! No family has 19 hours. It's less than that. THIS is the very reason my husband and I decided to homeschool our three children. Even when our kids are involved in other activites (ballet, soccer, even youth group, etc.), they're picking up habits from other children that we as parents might not approve of. Should we bubble them in? No. They need to learn how to function in our society, but that is time spent that we as parents have to "undo" what they've learned.

    Thank you for being such a heart-felt writer.

    Kelli

  8. Herding Grasshoppers says:

    >Sheila,

    That line of thinking is one of the major reasons we are home-schooling now. I hated giving up so much of the best part of the day to the school!

    Sports are an issue too. We're in the throes of soccer season right now, with three boys playing. That means six practices and three games a week.

    If we weren't homeschooling, there's now way I would want to do that! Even now it's a big chunk of time, but we've decided it's worth it.

    This may be the difference of having boys than girls, or maybe it's just that I have three really, really active boys who need a physical outlet. And (I console myself) it's only an 8-week season, not a year-round commitment.

    Julie

  9. >Nice to see so many homeschoolers here! This, of course, is one of the reasons I homeschool, too! But if we weren't homeschooling, I'd be paying a lot of attention to how much time my kids had at home.

    Barb, I think you're right. Cub Scouts/church clubs/youth group are in a separate category. Kids need to be involved in activities that reinforce proper values and where they will meet kids with similar values and have a positive peer group. So I would put Cub Scouts in a different category from sports, just like you.

    Kelli, I agree. I'm probably being too nice, too (although very few people in my normal life accuse me of being too nice). I think the point is that you have 19 potential hours. You aren't really going to spend all of those with your kids, but that's really all you have to work with. On a realistic basis, most parents spend way less than that. And I find that scary.

    Thanks for commenting, everybody!

  10. Berji's domain says:

    >I agree with your reasoning, but I think you missed something in your calculations. Chores, responsibilities, etc. can be taught as you do them TOGETHER. Exercise can be done TOGETHER. Not only do you impart the learning of the particular skill, but you also spend the time together that allows for opportunities to talk, teach and disciple your children. Sometimes it is much easier to have a tough conversation while you're jointly focused on something else.

  11. The Happy Domestic says:

    >Along the same line as Berji's comment, it doesn't matter what you and your kids are doing during your time together (which can easily be more than 80 hours if you do well with routine), what matters is that you do it together. Getting ready in the morning is together time. Your kid's homework time is together time. Chores, even divided out between people, are still working together to a common purpose. These things all DO count. Simply being who you are and being AROUND your kids makes the biggest impact.

    Although I am leaning towards homeschooling, I personally enjoyed a public education, and let me tell you the "quality time" charting can work the other way as well. Subtract recess, lunch hour, transitions between activities, and simply wasted time, and teachers also lament the minimal time available to mold young minds.

    I think the best thing any God-loving adult can do is to pray for the children, to be around them as much as possible, and stop worrying about the concept of "quality" time. Ultimately every child will become an adult, and will exercise their God given free will. If they have lived in a home where God was the go-to guy for every need, if they have seen adults modeling a God-centered life, and if we pray for them daily, they will have the best chance we can give them.

  12. David Taylor says:

    >A kid costs over $100,000. I mean you have to feed it 3 times a day times 365 days a years times 18 years. So the question becomes would you use protection to get over $100,000?

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