I will not win a popularity contest for writing this piece. I will not be considered politically correct for writing this piece. I may even excite some animosity for writing this piece, but I'm going to speak my mind.
I'd really like to explode the myth of quality time. Before you jump all over me, read carefully.
QUALITY TIME CAN'T BE SCHEDULED
I'm not suggesting that there is no such thing as quality time. Of course there is. And those moments are wonderful. When your family has a thought-provoking discussion about an important issue (with no interrupting and no tempers lost), when I am sitting on the couch reading story after story to a rapt audience, when my 3-year-old son gives me a hug and kiss as I leave his classroom each morning, when we joke together, laugh together ... these are the quality moments that make it all worthwhile.
What I object to is the idea that it is possible to schedule quality time.
It usually doesn't work, either for parent or child. When you're tired at the end of a long day and your 15-year-old wants to discuss the meaning of life, that may not be the best moment for you. However, as adults, we have an advantage. We know the importance of this time together so we can force ourselves to rise above our tiredness and distractions to be available to our children. But kids don't know that.
LETTING CHILDREN CHOOSE
Sometimes when I announce "bedtime story" five children come running, sometimes only one or two come. The others are "busy" playing. They'd rather skip tonight's story in favor of a good game of "school" with their sisters.
And that's great. There's nothing more pleasurable than having your children enjoying each other's company, but where's my quality time?
I've finally set aside an evening to take my 14-year-old shopping. But it's the day before she has four tests and one paper due. Where's my quality time?
I remember a Sunday afternoon my husband cleared to play ball with our son. Yeshia, at that time the lone boy among seven sisters, wanted to bake instead, not my husband's strength. Where was his quality time?
MAKING SCHEDULES FLEXIBLE
Children are spontaneous, and we have to be accessible to them. Sometimes they would prefer to accompany us to the grocery store. Sometimes they want to curl up in our bed. Sometimes they want a hug, sometimes a game. Sometimes they want to put on music and we can all dance together.
Children are spontaneous, and we have to be accessible to them.
And sometimes they don't. Sometimes they want to be alone, sometimes with a friend or a sibling. Sometimes they have work to do or other activities that absorb their interest.
The bottom line is that we need to make our schedules flexible enough that we're around when our children want that cuddle, that story, or that discussion.
Of course, no one can always be available. Just as Winnicott promoted the theory of the "good enough" parent since none of us is perfect, we need to be there "often enough."
If not, not only will our children lose a crucial stabilizing and loving foundation in their lives, but we will miss some of the sweetest moments life has to offer.
Quality time isn't really a myth, it's just elusive and you want to be there to catch it.