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Evan Horowitz | Quick Study

Thank your mom for the 10,000 hours she spent raising you

Sunday is Mother’s Day, a time to reflect on all the things our moms have done for us over the years, from pregnancy and birth to school assemblies, sick days, and difficult conversations — not to mention increasingly serving as the primary breadwinners and sometimes doing it all as single parents.

It all adds up to a lot of care, but also a lot of time. Moms in the United States spend roughly 550 hours on child care every year, or more than 10,000 hours between the time their first kids are born and their last one gains the right to vote. That’s the average across all moms, working and not-working, who are living with kids between the ages of 0 and 18, based on information from the American Time Use Survey.

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One way to celebrate this Mother’s Day, then, is to think about all those thousands of hours your mom spent making sure you were safe and happy.

For instance, what if she did something else with her 10,000 hours? Had she spent that time playing piano, or electric guitar, she would have developed some real virtuosity — 10,000 hours of practice is exactly the amount needed for mastering a field, according to the (controversial) theory popularized by author Malcolm Gladwell.

Even if she took just one year off, and saved the 550 hours of child care, she could have binge-watched all of “Lost,” “The Wire,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” and “The Sopranos,” and still have had 150 hours left over.

Not all years are the same either. The demands of motherhood vary based on the age of the children. Moms with kids under age 6 spend as much as 850 hours a year doing child care, which amounts to a full month.

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What is more, these figures only count the hours actually spent interacting with kids. If we added in the time moms spend earning money to support the family or helping keep their kids’ lives on schedule, the numbers would climb.

And while child care can be extremely rewarding, it can also be pretty exhausting. When the Pew Research Center asked mothers whether they found child care meaningful, a strong majority said yes. But the mothers they interviewed also said it was more tiring than paid work or housework.

So, if you’re looking for ways to show your appreciation this Mother’s Day, why not give thanks for those 10,000 tiring, but rewarding, hours spent making you the person you are today. And be glad your mom isn’t asking for back wages. Even at the federal minimum wage, that comes to $72,500.


Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the US. He can be reached at evan.horowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz