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Parents are spending time with their kids—and multitasking—more than ever before

But setting boundaries is good for us as well as our children.

Parents are spending time with their kids—and multitasking—more than ever before

This is worth celebrating: Today's parents spend more time with their children than in generations past. We're leaning into parenthood, loving the experience of raising children and taking pride in the roles of "Mom" or "Dad" often above all else.

But are we confusing quantity with quality—specifically when it comes to the "continuous partial attention" we offer when we're actually preoccupied by screens?

"We have yet to discover the outcome of a generation whose parents are constantly staring at screens, but I don't think I'm going out on a limb in saying the results are probably not so great," says Jasmin Terrany, licensed mental health counselor and the author of Extraordinary Mommy: A Loving Guide to Mastering Life's Most Important Job.

The good news is that solution isn't to ditch your phone or even to go without checking your messages during the daytime. Instead, experts tells Motherly we need to look at our desire to constantly multitask—and recognize that setting boundaries is good for us as well as our children.

Distracted parenting doesn’t go unnoticed by kids

Mounting research backs this up: According to a recent study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the "frequent" use of smartphones among parents undermines the relationships with their children. "The key message is that, as enticing and useful as they might be, smartphones can make spending time with your children feel less meaningful than it would otherwise be," the study's co-author Kostadin Kushlev of the University of Virginia told PsyPost.

Although Kushlev's study found smartphone distraction has less pronounced effects on the parental relationship during casual encounters at home than during family outings, being preoccupied with a screen at home has other consequences.

"Think of the stereotypical husband and wife having a conversation while a sports game is playing on TV. The husband's attention is split and the wife is frustrated because she doesn't sense that she's really being listened to," Ofra Obejas, a licensed clinical social worker, tells Motherly. "Same with parent and child… And the only 'power' the child has is to throw a tantrum."

Especially among young children who aren't yet capable of verbalizing their need for attention, the consequences can be dramatic: Researchers from Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child say "serve and return" parental interactions are foundational to brain development in young children. But if parents repeatedly fail to engage in this "conversational duet," psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek was clear to The Atlantic: "Toddlers cannot learn when we break the flow of conversations by picking up our cell phones or looking at the text that whizzes by our screens."

More research has shown that verbal responses alone aren't good enough, especially if the parent's body language sends a different message—as could be the case if you are "playing" with your kids while also engaged in a texting argument with your partner.

"Non-congruent body language actually causes anxiety and distress to children, even babies just a few months old," explains Urszula Klich, licensed clinical psychologist and president of the Southeast Biofeedback and Clinical Neuroscience Association. "Having congruent body language and positive messages helps to create a strong positive attachment to parents and later relationships as opposed to anxious ones."

What can we do to break out of “continuous partial parenting mode”?

Former Apple executive Linda Stone coined the term "continuous partial attention" in the mid-1990s to describe the way people were able to be tapped into anything at a moment's notice and how it came at the expense of full, undivided concentration.

In the two decades since, the problem has only deepened. But the ubiquity of phones, tablets and other screens shouldn't get all the blame. "The issue isn't the devices themselves, it's that they control us, we don't control them," says Terrany. "We are so often reacting and responding, rather than proactively setting limits—deciding when is phone time and when is family time."

But remember: It’s also healthy for kids to entertain themselves

Ironically, we have also grown uncomfortable with the notion that kids shouldn't have our attention 24/7. Boredom teaches them creativity, boosts their imaginations and improves their overall mental health. In other words: There's nothing wrong with encouraging your child to play solo while you respond to a call rather than trying to do both at once.

By doing that, we can begin to differentiate when our presence is actually needed. "I find that a simple question gets to the source of most issues, 'Do you want more attention right now?'" says Terrany. "If I can give more attention in those moments, I do. If I can't, I acknowledge and let them know when they will receive it."

As for the question of whether quality or quantity of time is more meaningful, Klich says the healthiest scenario is actually a balance of both. "Both often become a point of guilt for parents and sometimes the awareness that a parent is not engaging enough leads to attempts to spend more time," she says. "But, if we are not careful, that is distracted time."

The fact of the matter is there is a time and place for checking texts and social media just as there is a time for giving our kids undivided attention—and while many of today's parents are pros at multitasking, this is one area where we could all benefit from concentrating on one thing at a time.

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After 4 kids, this is still the best baby gear item I’ve ever purchased

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work.

I have four kids 8 and under, so you might expect that my house is teeming with baby gear and kid toys.

But it turns out that for me, the more kids I have, the more I simplify our stuff. At this point, I'm down to the absolute essentials, the gear that I can't live without and the toys my kids actually play with. And so when a mama-to-be asks me what things are worth registering for, there are only a few must-haves on my list.

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer seat is on the top of my list—totally worth it and an absolute must-have for any new mama.

In fact, since I first splurged on my first BABYBJÖRN bouncer eight years ago (it definitely felt like a splurge at the time, but the five star reviews were really compelling), the bouncer seat has become the most-used product in our house for baby's first year.

We've actually invested in a second one so that we didn't have to keep moving ours from the bedroom to the living room when we change locations.

BABYBJÖRN bouncer bliss

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The utility of the seat might seem counterintuitive—it has no mechanical parts, so your baby is instead gently bounced by her own movements. In a world where many baby products are touted for their ability to mechanically rock baby to sleep, I get that many moms might not find the "no-motion" bouncer that compelling. But it turns out that the seat is quite reactive to baby's little kicks, and it has helped my kids to learn how to self-soothe.

$200

Lightweight + compact:

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer is super lightweight, and it also folds flat in a second. Because of those features, we've frequently stored it under the couch, in a suitcase or in the back of the car. It folds completely flat, which I love.

Entertainment zone:

Is the toy bar worth it? The toy bar is totally worth it. Not only is the toy bar adorable, but it's one of the first toys that my babies actually play with once they discover the world beyond my boobs. The toys spin and are close to eye level so they have frequently kept my baby entertained while I cook or take a quick shower.

Great style:

This is not a small detail to me–the BABYBJÖRN bouncer is seriously stylish. I am done with baby gear and toys that make my house look like a theme park. The elegant European design honestly just looks good in my living room and I appreciate that parents can enjoy it as much as baby.

It's adjustable:

With three height settings that let you prop baby up to be entertained, or lay back to rest, we get years of use. And the bouncer can actually be adjusted for bigger kids and used from newborn to toddler age. It's that good.

It just works:

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work. But I have used the seat as a safe space to put baby while I've worked (I once rocked my baby in it with my foot while I reported on a breaking news story for the Washington Post), and as a cozy spot for my second child to lay while his big brother played nearby. It's held up for almost a decade with almost-constant use.

So for me, looking back on what I thought was a splurge eight years ago, was actually one of the best investments in baby gear I ever made.

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

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Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

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Comforts Electrolyte Drink

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Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

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When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

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Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

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This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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