'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!

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