If you're dogged by guilt over the amount of time you spend with your kids, read on: In "Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend With Children or Adolescents Matter?" researchers conclude that "for the most part, it matters very little," they write. They found that the amount of time mothers spent "engaged with" or "accessible to" children between the ages of 3 and 11 didn't affect the children's behavior, emotional well-being, or academic performance. Not convinced? Melissa Milkie, an author of the study published earlier this month in the Journal of Marriage and Family, puts it bluntly to the Washington Post: "I could literally show you 20 charts, and 19 of them would show no relationship between the amount of parents' time and children's outcomes. ... Nada. Zippo." One of the rare exceptions: Among kids ages 12-18, "more engaged maternal time was related to fewer delinquent behaviors"—things like drug use, sex, and antisocial behavior.
The authors observe that, "interestingly, the intensive mothering ideology is not typically focused on this age group." The Post notes the researchers also found that teens who had roughly 50 minutes of engaged family time each day benefited. As for what could negatively affect one's kids, per the study: a mother's stress, income, or educational level, suggesting the best way to help kids is "through social resources that help the parents in terms of supporting their mental health and socio-economic status," writes Milkie, whose study interestingly noted this: The amount of time mothers spend with their kids has actually increased from 10.5 hours a week in 1965 to 13.7 in 2010. At the Blog for the Institute of Family Studies, Anna Sutherland lists a few caveats with the research: Since kids under 3 weren't involved, "the study is not relevant to debates over ... whether day care or parental care is better for toddlers." She observes the study also didn't define "engaged" time—meaning activities like actively reading a book or passively watching TV were treated identically. (In other mommy news, one woman's proud photo of her "flabby" bikini body has gone viral.)