Wifey Wednesday: Family Time, Opportunity Cost, and Kids

Christian Marriage Advice

Usually on Wednesdays I publish a marriage article, but I’m in the middle of a three-part series I feel very passionately about: Creating a family where you’re not running here and there and everywhere, totally chaotic. And this is a marriage issue if you want to have a peaceful family life! Yesterday we looked at the broad topic of decluttering. Today I want to look at how much time families actually have together for meaningful interaction–and if we’re making full use of that together. 

You can still link up your marriage posts below!

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.

Families Are Always Making Choices in How to Spend their Time

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. 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.

How Much Family Time do We Have in a Week?

How Much Family Time do you Really Have in a Week?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 of potential family time. 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 of potential family time.

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 of family time.

So a family with no play dates, no working mother, very little technology addiction, and no lessons only gets 19 hours a week of quality family 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 parenthood)
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 are we, as a couple, working towards them? Kids are 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 (ie. you don’t homeschool them), 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 have only 19 hours of family time 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.

So let me issue you this marriage challenge today:

1. Sit down with your husband and do the math. How much potential “family time” do you have in a given week?

2. Make up your own list of priorities for your kids (and it doesn’t have to look like mine).

3. Now ask each other: with the way that we do our schedule, are we working towards those priorities? Or are we inadvertently pushing our kids in another direction?

And if you feel called to do a major rethink of your life, and declutter all aspects of it, the book Declutter Now! is only $4.99 on Kindle this week.

What marriage advice do you have for us today? Leave a comment and tell us how you and your husband navigate your schedules, or link up your own post in the linky below! And be sure to link back here so other people can read these great marriage posts.

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  1. I think this is really important, and something my husband and I need to take a hard look at. Thank you for challenging me!

    One thing you didn’t take into account (I don’t think), is that sometimes there can be good family time within these other times. I think bathtime could be a fun time where the little kids are playing together and mom is right there and not distracted by cooking, cleaning, or technology. I think sports can sometimes be good time – I spend our baseball games running around with my two little ones while my husband is coaching our oldest. Not that these times can replace things like family dinners, game night, etc, but I don’t think they should be completely negated. I think we can be deliberate about making great time out of the times we do have. Even within running errands – we can be distracted and rushed and grumpy, or we can take our time to talk with them, explain things to them, making it a learning time, etc.
    Megan G. recently posted…update soon!My Profile

  2. What a FABULOUS argument for the importance of family time. I’m a math geek too, so your analysis made even more sense to me! :) Thank you for the gentle but honest reminder of what should be valued most!

  3. Love this series!! My daughter was in mornings-only kindergarten last year, so this is our first school year with all-day school (full-time for her, and every second day for my son). I’ve not been looking forward to having them gone all day! My kids are also currently really good nappers, and by getting rid of their naps and having them go to bed much earlier in the evening, we will be losing out on a lot of family time in the evenings. As for them having more time to be influenced at school than at home, it is the main reason why we’ve chosen to send our kids to a Christian school. My husband and I are also planning to sit down this weekend and make a clear list of our priorities and how we’re going to manage them :).

    • Way to go setting priorities with your man! That’s such an important part of keeping your family on track.

  4. We homeschool, but my husband is gone 10 hours a day with an occasional military deployment. For our situation, our family time revolves around my husband. As soon as he walks in the door, we start family time. We eat dinner, and then they have quality time playing games or racing RC cars outside. We’ve also modified their bedtime so they can stay up later with my husband. So we have 6 hours family time M-F, and all day Saturday and Sunday.
    Hubby and I will be discussing the challenge tonight!
    Becky recently posted…Free Photo Book!My Profile

  5. This is a great reminder and challenge! I am a stay at home Mom who works some evenings and weekends and I definitely find it difficult to prioritize family time. Some things that have helped are: I spend some quiet time by myself every morning to read my devotional/pray which helps me to focus on whats important. We have never had TV, so we don’t have that time sucking temptation. (I’m sure I would be an addict!) We also limit “screen time” to 30 minutes. A bible verse I have as a pop up reminder on my phone is Ephesians 5:16 “Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

  6. Hi!

    I love your blog and subscribe and forward it on frequently to friends and my husband as well. I love some of the things you said about focused family time, and I try hard in our house to limit media as I believe for our family this is sometimes our biggest inhibitor to family time. I also think it is an excellent idea to sit down and make a list of character qualities. We use the cards from wechoosevirtues.com with my preschooler.

    While I respect your decision to homeschool, I felt that your wording was very strong in your post, specifically that at school
    students are taught that God is irrelevant, little responsibility, poor attitudes, and things that are not conducive to forming healthy marriages. Wow, that’s quite a list of negative. Growing up I did attend a Christian school where I unfortunately learned to focus on sin, wrongdoing, and the false belief that if I would just not sin, follow all the rules, do all the right things, that The Lord would somehow give me everything I thought I was owed based on my works. Obviously this was a very incorrect and hard pattern to break into adulthood. In 5th grade I remember drawing a consequence from the sin tin every time the teacher felt I did something wrong. I didn’t learn a view of a loving graceful God from this experience. I won’t even get started on the amount of older students who flock to private Christian schools because of being expelled from public school. There are influences everywhere, even as a homeschool family. Abuse is rampant in both the Christian and secular populations.

    While I agree that there isn’t a focus in God in public school, I happen to be an elementary teacher at a public school where my principal as well as the MAJORITY of my staff are believers. My principal has prayed with me several times over the years which is such a blessing. I also use the wechoosevirtues character words with my students minus the bible verses. I found your blog to contain huge generalizations that were frankly offensive. Personally I chose not to homeschool for several reasons. In no way do I believe that this choice will somehow cause my kids to be irresponsible, have a poor attitude, a bad marriage, or not have a close and healthy relationship with God. While I respect that this is your blog and therefore your right to express your opinion, please be very careful to not represent your thoughts with fact. It’s offensive.

  7. A thousand times YES!!! I have a post coming up Monday the 26th I believe) that talks about how my family is in a season of rest. Even though my husband works at home(ish, he’s on the farm all day) and we homeschool, we still need to value the time that we have with our children. We have taken time to stop nearly all outside the home commitments so that we can focus on developing strong relationships with each other and the Lord. It has been worth it all to have the reward of the Peace that has settled on our house!
    Tessa W recently posted…Word on Wednesday: Remembering to be JoyfulMy Profile

  8. I try to maximize the time I do have since I’m a working mom (yay for teachers!) by incorporating fun and games into cleaning and other chores. I do give myself time twice during the week for an hour long work-out at the gym and daily time in the morning (15 to 20 minutes) to journal/read my Bible. :)
    Natalie recently posted…Boy Scouts & MealsMy Profile

  9. I think you’ve got the right idea in this post, and it’s a good reminder, but I would also say that cooking dinner can be good family time. I include my kids in cooking dinner at night, especially during the school year, because they enjoy it and it is a good time to talk about the day and also to teach a useful life skill (cooking). I think including kids in all of the processes that keep the home running can provide opportunities to bond while accomplishing a task, learn teamwork, and learn skills and work ethic. Even as adults, my brother and sister and I work very well as a team, because we had a LOT of practice growing up.
    Amanda recently posted…Recipe: Chocolate Cranberry SconesMy Profile

  10. Your post seems a little biased towards homeschooling, which I think distracts from the actual point of your article. Public schools cannot be biased towards a Christian viewpoint for obvious reasons, but they aren’t necessarily anti-Christian. My mother and sister work in pubic schools, as do many of my friends. They are believers and I fully believe they represent Christ in the classrooms and schools they work in.

    And I have to say that your idea of dismissing morning isn’t always true. My husband and I both have flexible work schedules and we usually sit down to breakfast as a family.

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