Did you spend a lot of time with your dad on Father's Day? Maybe you went outside and played catch. Maybe you had a cookout. Maybe you played miniature golf. Maybe you went for a hike. Maybe you went to the movies.
Whatever you may have done to observe your dad's special day, the most important part of the celebration was simply spending time together.
American children spend an average of 2.5 hours a day with their fathers on weekdays and 6.2 hours a day on weekends, according to a University of Michigan study. (It's important to understand that the study looked only at families with a mom and a dad living at home.)
So what do dads and their kids do when they're together? The study found that fathers aren't just sitting in an easy chair while their kids are in the room. At least half the time they are together, dads are actively engaged with their kids. They play, eat, go shopping, watch TV or work around the house together. The rest of the time, the study reports, the dads are close by.
Dads have fun with their kids. About 40 percent of their time with children is spent in what the researchers define as play: watching TV, going to movies, playing computer and board games as well as rough-and-tumble indoor and outdoor play. But modern dads do other things with their children, too--chores that might have been done only by moms 20 or 30 years ago. These activities include feeding babies, bathing them and changing their diapers; with older kids, fathers may help them get dressed or comb tangles out of their hair.
What about moms? Mothers devote a larger amount of time to parenting, especially on weekdays, according to the author of the study, sociologist W. Jean Yeung of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. "But fathers are slowly but surely assuming more active roles in their children's lives, especially on weekends," says Yeung.
Yeung found that dads spend much less time than moms on what she calls achievement-related activities: helping with homework, reading aloud, driving kids to art or music lessons.
On weekdays and weekends, the typical dad spent only about five minutes directly engaged with his children in these activities, the study found.
These averages may be far different from what your family is like. The tricky thing about research studies is that they describe average families, not individual families. And each family is different!
As you know from math, averages can represent a wide range of numbers. You may have a dad who spends hours with you on your homework and ferrying you to your violin lessons. One of your friends may have a dad who spends no hours at all on these kinds of things. Still another friend may have a dad who spends five minutes a day on homework and extracurricular activities. Average these three dads' hours of parenting together, and you get a number that doesn't really describe any of your personal experiences. But if the number of people a study looks at is large enough to be what scientists call "statistically significant," the average does mean something about the way many families behave.
Studies are useful and interesting because they indicate trends in the way people behave. In this case, the study suggests that the typical father is spending more time with his children--and that's good for dads and for kids.
In the study, Yeung also asked dads about their emotional connection with their kids. Three-quarters of the dads in the study say they hug their children or show physical affection to them every day.
We're willing to bet that some hugging went on in your house on Father's Day. That annual celebration is fun, but all kids know that every day is really dad's day. What are you and your dad planning to do together this week?
Tips for Parents
Sometimes facing unscheduled summer hours with children can feel intimidating--especially if they're saying, "We're bored!" Check the library or bookstore for "1001 More Things to Do With Your Kids" by Caryl Waller Krueger (Abingdon; $16) for 315 pages stuffed with ideas, many of them free.
For You to Do
If you could leave a note for your dad telling him about your favorite ways to spend time with him, what would you say? (If your dad is not active in your life, think about doing this activity with your grandfather, an uncle, a close family friend or even an older brother.) Would you like to work on your curveball? Build a treehouse? Write a play? Camp out in the back yard? Plan a dream vacation? Explore a museum? Play a board game marathon?
Take a few minutes to make a list and share it with your dad or your older relative or friend. Try to find activities that are easy to do without investing too much time and money in equipment. Think of things that your dad might read on the list and then say to you, "Okay! Let's go!"