The Myth of Quality Time

You are a busy person. You wear many hats, and manage, somehow, to stay on top of it all. One day, a baby gets added to your packed schedule.

You have some months’ notice, so you start clearing your schedule to make place for the baby. And when the baby is born, you have maternity / paternity leave to spend quantity time with the baby. As the end of your leave period approaches, you devote serious thought to how you will spend enough time with your child once you’re back at work.  

The solution involves your spending all your after-work hours with your child while he’s awake. Once he’s in bed, you’ll catch up on chores and other work. The stuff you can’t finish will either get postponed or fall by the wayside.

As your child grows, there’s more going on in his life. But your responsibilities have grown too, and you get busier as well. Also, once the novelty of having a child has worn off (sounds like sacrilege to say it, but it’s true! 🙂 ), you want to get back to something that at least vaguely resembles the life you had before he came along.

Maybe you were at the movies every weekend before you became a parent. Now that you have a child, is it too much to want to watch one movie every 3 months, you wonder? The reasonable answer is: no. This puts further pressure on the time you have with your child.  

As time goes by, you want to stay involved in your child’s life, but you aren’t around him for a large part of his waking day. When you get home, you ask: “What happened today? I made your favorite dessert for lunch as a surprise – did you enjoy it? What did the teacher say about your essay on your favorite animal? How was the school picnic?”

He might be tired and sleepy. He might be having dinner while watching TV, so he’s not really in the mood for conversation. He says: “Nothing much. I loved the mango custard, thanks. She didn’t say anything about my essay. The picnic was good.”

He might get animated when it comes to the picnic, and give you details, but it won’t be the same as it would have been if you’d been home when he burst through the door screaming with excitement about all that happened at the picnic.

So here you are, doing everything you can to give your child quality time – focusing exclusively on him -but you’re conscious of something missing.

The fact is that quality time doesn’t work. All children, however old they are, need quantity time. First, there has to be quantity time. Quality time may come later.

This is why many working parents become jealous of their child’s caregiver. The child seems to bond so well with the caregiver, and the caregiver knows the child much better than they do!

 Obviously – what else do you expect? If someone is spending eight or ten hours a day 5 or 6 days a week with your child, they’re with him when he’s screaming, laughing, playing, teasing, talking, sleepy, messy, funny, grouchy – they share all those moments with your son.

And you hurt – because you would rather be the one who shared all this with your child, but you’re not.

So how can you, as a working person, get quantity time with your child?

Build it in.

Driving time is a superb example of this. In today’s day and age, most of us commute significant distances.  If your child is with you, actively use driving time. Asking her “what happened at school this week?” is a sure way to make sure she’s silent throughout.

Instead, you might want to start with a story of your own. How when you were little you dropped a bottle of water in the classroom, and what a mess it caused. You can be sure she’ll respond with some story – about how someone made a mess, or dropped food, or eats messily, and as easily as that, the stories will begin, and you can share her world, her time. 🙂 

Why do you want to do chores when she’s asleep? Let her do them with you! You’ll teach her that running a home involves work, you’ll train her, and you’ll share time and experiences with her. Isn’t that what you want? You simply can’t go wrong with this one.

The best part is that you can start doing this even with babies who are a few months old!

Preparing food? Let her hand you the vegetables. Washing stuff? Cleaning stuff? Wiping the table? Pouring things? Let her stir, season, arrange, put away, wipe, clean, dust. Yes, so long as she can sit, she can do all these things. The only one who thinks she can’t is you!

I’ve had 8-month old babies sit on the kitchen counter and transfer peas from a bowl to a pan. I’ve had them use long ladles to stir vegetables cooking on the gas with the flame on. I’ve taken them shopping, showing them what is a good tomato to buy, and how to pick potatoes. We’ve picked fruit, weighed vegetables, debated about buying one type of chips over another… You are the only one that’s limiting the time you spend with your child.

Want to wash the car? Well, sit him in it. Give him a cloth, show him how to wipe the dashboard and steering wheel, and let the fun begin! Maybe he’ll toot the horn. You can clean the windows and play peek-a-boo…

As your children grow, let them do more things with you. It’s easier, because they are able to do more things. But it’s important that you let them do those things.

Whenever you think the time is right, let them use electrical gadgets – the blender, the kettle, the microwave. Whenever you think they (and you! 🙂 ) are ready, let them use knives and sharp implements – let them peel and dice vegetables, hand you nails to hammer into the wall…

Do it with them – it’s less of a chore, and you’ll be amazed at the quantity and quality of time you get with your child. As you get things done together, you’ll also keep talking – sharing stories, thoughts and events.

Share your world with them. It’s only reasonable, don’t you think? After all, you want them to share their world with you.

P.S.   My father says I’m in danger of being arrested for breaking the law against child labor! 🙂

10 Responses to The Myth of Quality Time

  1. sonali mohan September 27, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    i completely subscribe to the ‘driving time”– it is what i call time spent in encloed confined space–so whether one is discussing school/ or the latest music on FM which i am out of synch or discussing rj’s and their useless prattle, its reaching out at its best–i am speaking from experience–believe me in retrospective , it seems to be some of the best moments as a parent!

    • Vinita Zutshi September 27, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

      I’ve done this since she was in her infant seat, Sonali. We’ve had MAJOR discussions in the car. Sometimes, not making eye contact helps broach ticklish issues… 🙂

  2. Preeti Hans October 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    Wow! good one…
    When i call my maa to talk to her, she starts the conversation saying ” Hi, how are you beta” .. i respond and ask the same question.. and then she says “aur sunao”.. that’s where the conversation ends… at times i ask her how’s everything at school , at home … she responds in one liners … and that is it….because I don’t have particular things to talk and share and i need some context to share things….
    a lot of parents also do the same… they ask some “pet questions”, kids respond and the conversation is over….
    ideas given in the post are really good to spend quality time with kids and even with your loved ones!
    Thanks Vinita

  3. Vinita Zutshi October 6, 2011 at 12:09 am #

    Glad you liked them, Preeti!

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