It’s been quite a while now that there has been an ongoing debate about QUALITY TIME with our children (and other people we love and care about).
To be honest, I am a little bothered by it. Because of the assumption that comes along with it. The assumption that if we spend QUALITY time with our kids (or spouses, or other family members), somehow that makes up for the difference – in terms of the little time you spend with them. The assumption being that QUALITY is, in fact, better than QUANTITY.
In other words, perhaps for a parent who travels a lot or works out of their downtown office 80 hours a week [this number is an approximation], it is alright to do so as long as this parent will promise the family an amazing Saturday once a month. Going to valley fair. Or shopping. Or whatever it might be that your family enjoys oh-so-very-much.
And I see this debate entering into the realm of marriage. I might be unable to be present with my spouse but then thinking – I will make it up to him/her by taking them on a special trip once a year. Or, using the good ol’ – we have kids now, this is a different time in our marriage, we don’t have time for dates. We’ll do that when we are done with this (AKA raising our toddlers, driving teens to sports practices or ____________ – fill in the blank whatever applies in your household).
As if you could eat once a week and call it good.
Or sleep once a month and say that’s sufficient.
This discussion of Quality vs. Quantity comes up quite often in my couples counseling sessions. I have to remind people that if you stop tending to each other now, 18 years from now you won’t even recognize each other.
That makes me think of something that used to happen at our house. Our youngest, now almost four years old, (then 2 or 3) used to play ‘party’ all the time. We entertain quite often, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. At the age of two or three, she would often bring her fluffy friends and dolls, set them up in the middle of the kitchen floor. She would use her little kid plastic plates and silverware and make sure that all her little friends had all they needed. In the middle of the kitchen floor. As if there wasn’t enough space elsewhere.
It would drive me crazy. Here I was, trying to make food, dealing with knives and hot pots and pan or the oven on occasion – trying to make dinner for our actual family. All the while I am expected to jump around on our tile floor, as if playing hop-scotch – making sure that I wasn’t going to step on something and slip or spill some of the imaginary milk that had been poured into the tiny little cups on the floor.
It wasn’t until I realized what she was doing that it finally stopped bugging me. She wanted to be with me. She didn’t care that I was busy doing what I needed to do. She didn’t care that my hands were covered in grease or smelled like garlic. She didn’t care that I didn’t sit down on the floor with her to engage her fully.
She just wanted to sit and be in my presence.
Now that she is older, she will just say the words: I want you. When she is upset about something, or when she first wakes up in the morning, she will find me. Tearful or tear-free, she will just say that. Those three simple words. And we find a way together to fill up her love tank.
It only makes sense to me: We cannot expect to be absentee spouses all year and have our lack of engagement erased from the past only to try to make up the difference in a week or two of all-inclusive, overly-abundant heavenly experiences. Quality time with your spouse is just fine and dandy as long as it is paired up with quantity. As long as the two go hand-in-hand.
It is YOU they want.
Both your spouse and your kids. Whatever that looks like for each of your family members, just be present.