Running a family is nothing if not a long exercise in multitasking: helping kids with homework while cooking dinner, staving off a toddler tantrum while pushing a grocery cart.
But just how much time with our kids is spent distracted by other tasks—or, looked at from a different angle, how often are we juggling kids while getting other chores done?
The American Time Use Survey is a long-running study conducted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It asks people detailed questions about how they spend their days.
Recently released data from the survey shows that women spend more time with children in a typical day than men do. But both mothers and fathers spend the bulk of their time with kids managing secondary tasks as well.
Mothers spend nearly two hours a day cooking, cleaning, and doing other household tasks while simultaneously caring for kids; fathers do about 45 minutes. Mothers also spend about 30 minutes per day shopping for household goods, roughly double dad’s shop time.
But the main preoccupations for parents caring for kids are TV watching, exercise, and other leisure activities, which account for roughly two hours of multitasking per day for mothers and fathers alike.
As children age, the amount of time parents spend with them shrinks, and the percentage of that time spent multitasking grows. Parents spend about two hours a day exclusively focused on their children when the kids are 6 years old or younger, but devote only half that time to kids aged 6 to 12.
But the survey’s broad categories obscure what is actually going on in US homes. They each cover a range of activities and can be read a variety of different ways. “Leisure,” as the survey defines it, covers everything from zoning out in front of a daytime talk show to going for a family bike ride.
Nor does the survey explain the ways that families change as children grow up. Do parents become less invested and more easily distracted by outside interests as their children age—or are hours once spent changing diapers and other activities that can only be described as childcare transferred into mutually enjoyable leisure activities that families do together?
Families may spend their days differently, but one number is the same for all of them. That’s 6,570: the number of days of childhood before a kid turns 18.