Today’s parents talk quite a bit about spending quality time with their children. Some parents believe that if they’ve spent an hour of “quality” time with their children, they’ve done enough. This hour is usually focused on an enjoyable activity: watching t.v., going out to eat, going to the movies, etc.
Although today’s world turns at a frenetic pace and parents are often overwhelmed by all they have to do, our parenting tips will highlight the importance of spending both quality and what I call quantity time with your kids.
To illustrate the difference between the two, let me share a brief story.
The other day at the supermarket, I ran into an acquaintance. In order to protect his identity, we’ll call him Joe. After we exchanged greetings, I asked about his nine year old son, Sam. Joe is divorced and has custody of Sam every other weekend. He told me: “Let me give you a parenting tip. Every time I do something with Sam, I make sure it’s something fun. Last weekend, I took him to Disneyland. I’m spending quality time with him all right … yeah, that’s what I’m doing.” When I asked how Sam was doing in school, Joe stammered for a moment, then waved me off, “That kid’s got the world by the tail.”
Let’s begin by recognizing Joe’s efforts to spend time with his son. Given his situation, time constraints and his understanding of what Sam needs from him, he’s trying to be a decent father. It seems, though, that his need to make sure that Sam is always entertained might stem from feelings of guilt over spending little time with him. It’s a modus operandi that I refer to as “guilty parenting.” Here’s the first of my parenting tips: when you feel bad about your inability to do something for your child and try to make up for it through some compensatory action, you can create an ill affect.
Instead of being honest, we overcompensate and act like peers, rather than parents. It’s important to note that this phenomenon isn’t unique to men, even though traditionally they have had less time to spend with children. Suffice it to say that guilty parenting overcompensates and causes children to view themselves as victims. This happens because children model our behavior and point their fingers at the parent who points the finger at himself.
That said, let’s talk about the concept of time. From my bag of parenting tips comes this quote: “Time is the most precious thing you own.” Because our lives are so full of hurry, worry and activity, we often stress the importance of spending “quality time” with our children. But this may stem from the guilt of knowing that we often push our kids to the bottom of the list. Yes, we assure them, I’ll spend some time with you, but only after I finish this and that. Spending time with our kids becomes another item on our laundry list, as if they were a “thing to do.”
Some years back, I saw an interview with actor, Paul Sorvino, who talked about how proud he was that his daughter, Mira, had recently won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. He remarked that he had been a hands-on father who had always been there for his children. He ended by saying that there’s no such thing as “quality time.”
Parenting tips: The quantity of time that you spend with your children matters just as much as the quality of that time.
While I understood what he meant, I think that we shouldn’t alienate parents who have less time because of jobs or circumstances beyond their control.
The point is that quantity time matters just as much, if not more, than quality time.
While it’s okay to take your kids to Disneyland, it isn’t a substitute for good parenting.
Parents need to be there–they need to be a witness to their children’s lives. That means creating good times, but more importantly, it means being there when things are tough. It means being an active participant in your child’s everyday struggles.
For example: working with a child who is dyslexic to help him sort out his letters, helping a child who gives up much too easily to learn to try again, teaching a child who is quick to anger how to channel his intensity into something positive. Helping a troubled kid or troubled teen learn how to correct maladaptive behaviors. This, of course, requires time, patience and a willingness to participate in a long-term process. This is quantity time. Quantity time requires that we be there. Quality time ends once the weekend trip is over and Sunday evening rolls around.
We speak in terms of quality time because we live in a society where money and things have come to rule our lives. The solution to this is simple: make a decision that family matters. Once you’ve made family your priority, it’s fairly easy to weed out the activities that take up too much time and create parenting plans that serve the interests of the entire family. Maybe when you were single and had no children, you could do it all, but having a family has changed all that. As parents, we have to make hard choices. This means saying “no” more often to the people and activities that aren’t central to our lives. As always, it’s a balancing act, but the more we choose, the clearer our priorities become.
In our fast-paced society, we often forget that relationships take care and time. Spending time with your children shouldn’t be seen as “doing time”—it shouldn’t feel like a prison sentence. (If it does, then playing with your child will be your greatest medicine because it will teach you to relax.)
Parenting tips for creating more time with your children:
Rethink your life: one day each week, squeeze your schedule into your family life, rather than your family into your schedule. Find things that you can do together as a family. Make sure that you give each child individualized attention. Talk to your child; find out how he’s doing. Make yourself responsible for having a finger on his pulse. Be accessible, even when you’re busy.
Spending time doesn’t mean you have to do anything special. All it means is that you give your interest and attention. If you’re overwhelmed with chores, ask your kids to help. There’s something about engaging with others in rote activity that invites conversation and connection. Above all, check yourself before you use candy, money, toys or trips to make up for being unavailable. Remind yourself that this is often a clever defense to assuage a sense of guilt.
Unscheduled time–time spent spontaneously and given freely— is a great healer of relationship. Learn to make time for the people in your life. Have days or at least moments when you freely give your time. Don’t worry that the laundry isn’t folded or that you have a million things to do. Put all that aside and give your children time. By doing so, you’ll be giving them the most valuable thing you own.
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