A Day in the Life of a Parent

What’s the real cost of parenting? How much time do I spend managing the lives of those I’m responsible for?

For a long time I wondered “where does my day go?” I mean, I know that I spend a lot of time working and a lot of time parenting and a lot of time cleaning, but it still seems to slip away from me with seemingly little to show in the way of filled in checkboxes on my growing list of personal goals. So I decided to check how much time I spend parenting.

Thus, today (2009/06/18) I decided to write down all the little things I do as a responsible parent to see how much time it adds up to. Now mind you, I probably missed a few little things here and there and I am estimating much of the time sync, but I suspect it’s fairly accurate (at least within a 5-10% error rate).

Why did I pick today? Well, for a few reasons. One, I’m acting as a single parent today which I figured would make me look even more like a super-parent. Ok, I probably shouldn’t have admitted that. Also, it was a day I was going to try and get as much work in as I could as well (fortunately, I work from home). It was a beautiful summer day where there was no transportation requirements (adding trips to and from school is a huge time sink) and it was a day where I didn’t do many other house-hold tasks that would have been an even bigger time sink (laundry, vaccuuming, deep cleaning, napping, …). IE, the only two goals I had for the day were parenting and working. In that order.

Now mind you, I try to be a decent parent. There are two extreme views of parenting: let them fend for themselves (they know where the cereal is darn it, why are they bugging me) and complete micro-management (no, move that sock to the left side of your drawer). I try to balance nicely in the middle and be responsible but encouraging self-sufficiency when possible. I made them breakfast and ate with them to interact before I started working (more) and they made their own lunch while I made mine to teach independence.

The Tally

I thought one computer typed set of notes (when it was in front of me) and one piece of note paper would be enough. I underestimated that a bit.

Time Spent Parenting Today
Time Seconds Description
7:02 20 Good Morning conversation to first awake child walking by.
7:44 780 Make Breakfast (cereal and oatmeal)
8:02 45 Poured a glass of milk
8:35 180 Applied mosquito repellent liberally to children’s skin
(Oddly, I don’t consider it acceptable for them to touch the stuff even though I put it on thickly)
8:39 30 Explained how to be a more kind older sister
(Hint: don’t yell as much)
9:20 60 Answered questions about going outside, eating crackers, etc…
9:30 60 Son: “What are you using that computer for daddy?” (noticing me typing so quickly)
Dad: “sending email for work”.
10:17 60 Took pictures of my cute kids playing in a stream.
10:23 30 Answered questions about snack choices
10:32 15 Daughter: “What was the hand movement to the a-ram-sam-sam song again?”
Dad: [:shows movements he learned during her pre-school class ages ago:]
10:34 60 Reapplyed bug spray now that a sweatshirt had been taken off and the arms were exposed
10:56 20 Walked outside
Yelled “stop throwing sticks at each other.”
Walked back inside
11:26 20 Walked outside and shouted “stop shouting.”
12:03 60 Dad: “Want to pack a picnic and go on a hike for lunch?”
Daughter: “Yes, but check out the cool rocks I found!”
12:14 300 Directed and participated in the lunch making process
12:22 30 Tied a yellow string in daughter’s hair at her request because her normal hair tie appears to be missing
13:05 60 Applied more mosquito repellent for the afternoon outdoor shift.
13:10 60 Son: “I just wanted to tell you I’m going to put on shorts so you need to put more insect repellent no me.”
Dad: [:reaches for bottle:]
14:46 10 Dad: “Don’t forget to wipe your feet on the rug please”
14:49 30 Daughter: “Dad, can I grab something out of the car?”
“Yes” and [: handed off keys :]
14:50 10 [: Put keys back in pocket :]
14:50 10 Son: “Can I have some graham crackers dad?”
14:54 20 Son: “Dad, how can I get this dirt off my arm?”
Dad: “It’s probably sap and that’s why it’s so hard to clean off. Rub really hard and Good Luck.”
14:55 30 A longer discussion ensued about how I’m wrong and it’s not sap. Oh, and my son proceeded to inform me that hand lotion and soap mixed together make really good soap.
15:21 60 Instructed children to pick up their dirty clothes and then supervised with a threatening look when they failed to follow instructions.
16:19 30 Admonished kids who fell down the stairs that they need to be more careful
16:20 60 Tasking assignment and instructions: “Please water Mommy’s bulbs using these containers”
16:29 180 Patched up kid who ran chest first into out-stretched window frame. Apparently the 16:19 lesson didn’t stick.
16:43 30 Dad: “Did you water both sets of flowers?”
Children: “No. Where’s the others?”
16:55 60 They’re yelling loudly again. Oh, and climbing on that stack of wood isn’t safe. No, swinging from that very thin branch isn’t either. I don’t care if it’s “bendy” it’s still not safe.
17:30 60 Advised about the two minute dinner time warning and answered various questions fired back at me
17:35 1320 Made the promised pancake dinner. Since I don’t like pancakes all of this prep time I’m charging to them (but a promise is a promise, so I made them). I had eggs, which I made later.
17:40 0 (In the midst of the above)
Son: “I can’t get all this sap off.”
Dad: “Holy cow, what were you playing with?”
Son: “Sap”
Dad: [: Grumbles :]

18:13 600 I did the dishes. It actually took me 15 minutes not 10, but 1/3rd of them were mine.
18:36 10 Checked up on teeth brushing status.
18:37 600 Read to son: “Oh the things you can think” by Dr. Suess
19:24 660 Tucked son into bed
19:24 180 Dealt with the ‘Spilled water on Pajamas’ catastrophe
19:39 120 Dealt with the ‘Spider catastrophe’.
Unfortunately it was a catastrophe even though I meant to harmlessly catch and release him
19:57 2100 Read to daughter: Harry Potter
(boy that was a long scene that I couldn’t stop in the middle of)
21:21 180 Tucked older child in and replenishing the night time water supply.

The Results

How much time did I spend being a parent? It turns out to add up quickly:

Seconds: 8250
Minutes: 137.5
Hours: 2.29 (rounding up slightly, but I deserve it)

Now, before you jump in there and say I’m an uptight parent who just spent the day yelling at his kids, I have one important distinction to make about the results: That’s just the time I spent being a responsible parent. These are just the things I felt I “had to do” and there was no choice in the matter. That summary does not include the hour lunch I spent eating with my kids on a rock by a river and watching a butterfly land on my kids outstretched hands (which was really really cool). It doesn’t count the 30 minutes I spent playing sequence with them, or the game of pool I played with my daughter. I only counted the get-through-the-day time. Not the “Quality Family Time” time.


When I was a kid I learned that every essay should have a good introductory paragraph, and solid body and a conclusion. My conclusion from all this is that it takes a lot of time to be a parent. When I signed on to the job I knew it was a commitment that couldn’t be broken and a responsibility I would hold for life. But I’m not sure I truly understood the time sink. In the end, it’s still worth it, of course (the hugs and the laughter alone are worth it). But now I at least understand why I don’t get much accomplished in the other aspects of my life.

It’s my bed time now. Tomorrow it all begins again. Technically I’m being risky posting these totals before midnight.

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