We often roll our eyes when a politician or celebrity leaves the public eye because he or she wanted to “spend more time with family.” In 2014, The Guardian asked readers what they thought this phrase meant. Among the responses:
“After being generally kicked around and at last finally dismissed, the politician discovers after many months or years the bittersweet fact that it’s only his family that can’t vote him out.”
“I can’t stand the heat so I’m getting out of the kitchen.”
“Either ‘I’m going before I’m sacked’ or ‘I’m going before I’m charged.’”
“I have a lousy speech writer.”
“It either means the wife will initiate divorce proceedings unless the politician quits – or it’s a convenient statement to cover real disillusion with the job.”
Now there appears to be a trend toward actually spending time with one’s family. Of course, it helps when one uses the phrase outside being caught up in a scandal. Last week comedian Jim Gaffigan and his wife, director and co-writer Jeannie, announced they were ending their very funny and successful sitcom on TV Land. In a statement released on social media they said the show’s time commitment was “taking us away from our most important project, our five children.”
It was refreshing to see the reason the Gaffigans walked away from the show (with TV Land’s blessing) the subject of many clickbait headlines lauding their decision. In an interview, Jeannie explained their decision was about being in control of their family.
We’re trying to be smart about this. We think we did two great seasons, and it’s better to learn this now than to learn it when some damage might be done. But we’re still going to be Jeannie and Jim Gaffigan. We’re still going to produce the same quality of show. We’re just going to find a different way to do it that is more conducive to us being able to keep our family together.
People Do What It Takes to Get Family Time
She hits on a very important point. We’re living in a technological age that gives parents more freedom than ever before. Women and men can stay home and financially contribute to the household through several different avenues like Etsy, a home-run business, or telecommuting full-time or part-time. Rather than traveling or working traditional hours, the ability to telecommute gives parents more options.
I asked one friend how he adjusts his schedule to spend more time with his children. He said, “I try to wake up with my kids, make breakfast for them and spend about 2.5 hours with them before we all leave the house for school and work… and get home at least one hour before they go to bed. I’ve also tried to say no to all multi-day travel and stay no more than one night in a hotel.”
When Rep. Paul Ryan was being recruited for the speakership, one of his biggest hang-ups was the precedent of speaker-related travel away from his wife and three young children. The Washington Post reported that then-Speaker John Boehner spent up to 200 days per year traveling for fundraisers across the country. Ryan said, “I cannot and will not give up my family time.”
It was an admirable demand and unfortunate that some immediately criticized it. Talk radio host and single mom Laura Ingraham tweeted, “Re. @RepPaulRyan concerns abt missing family time—like no one has ever sacrificed family time to serve the country?” It’s an odd criticism given that most conservatives (myself included) believe a main problem with politicians is that they spend too much time outside their districts.
We Want Better for Our Kids
Another sign that family time is making a comeback despite DC’s cynicism is a recent letter a teacher sent home that went viral. The letter said she will not give students “formally assigned homework.” Instead, she encouraged parents to do things that research shows does help improve students’ performance, such as “Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your child to bed early.”
Studies have found that families who spend more time together reap a ton of benefits. Low-cost, leisure activities like board games help families emotionally bond. Families that participate in religious activities are more likely to see their parents express love and affection, giving an example of strong relationships. Children also experience more academic success when both parents spend time with them. The list continues.
One possible explanation for the focus back on family time is that my generation, Generation X, now makes up a large portion of the parent population. We were the latchkey kids who witnessed increasing divorce rates. Every generation wants better for their children, and for us that’s giving our kids the stability we may not have had.