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.
Once upon a time, there was a Grammy-winning banjo-playing genius who fell in love with an amazing banjo-playing lady genius.*
Then the two got married.
Then one day they decided to start a family.
With great expectation they looked forward to their summer of newborn nesting and eagerly planned their three months “off” following the baby’s birth. This couple dreamed of writing music, being creative, and having the most productive time of their lives. Almost as if on vacation.
Lo and behold, at the end of this magical welcoming baby time, this banjo wielding couple held a concert to showcase the pieces of music they birthed. They stood before their audience, and spoke this opening line: “We want to play you the great pieces of music we wrote…
…that ended up being the one and only piece…
…oh, and it’s just instrumental…
Moral of the story: Beware the illusive dreams of productivity and prosperity of newborn days!
If you have children of your own, this will not come as a surprise: This IS what happens to most people’s lives when they have a baby. It’s what kids do to a marriage. (It’s why this post is titled True Colors of Parenthood.) Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing! But it’s reality nevertheless. In so many different ways, a child throws the family – shall we say – off track? At least for a little while…
Having a baby, welcoming a new life to the world throws our whole world off — and of course it does! BUT – Instead of being overwhelmed and disappointed that our maternity/paternity leave isn’t more productive, starting this new time of your life with realistic expectations will go a long way.
What if, instead of beating your head against the wall, we thought about it in terms of just preparing for the inevitable. Yes, plain awareness and knowledge IS half the battle. Once you know what to expect, the blow always ends up softer in the end.
I have noticed that, for many years, few parents-to-be had an honest picture of what this so-called bliss may bring as a by-product. Besides the bliss – because there IS bliss – That it might be the source of new kinds of arguments.
That there might be greater tension in the home. Or outside of the home — with the family or your in-laws.
That there will be little or no sleep some nights. Or most nights at first.
That adjusting to the particular ways of your new baby will be stress or anxiety producing.
That as you are navigating your new roles (and yes, they are roles and yes, they are new) as mom and dad, you will stumble upon newly discovered imperfections within yourselves and the rest of the world.
In the past, nobody used to talk about any of this. As a result, the new parents ended up with self-doubt more often than not. While we do a much better job with it these days – THANK GOODNESS for that- there is often still a gap. When in doubt, remember that you have never done this before – individually or as a couple. Do talk to someone. Many people won’t volunteer their insight or encouragement for fear of being unsolicited and rejected as a result. Once you crack the door open, many will accept the invitation, move a few things out of the way to find a spot on your couch and be real with you.
I can already hear some of you wanting to argue my point here – Yes, there ARE exceptions. I know that. As with every other rule under the sun, this one, too, has been proven wrong. By one parent. Or two. I wouldn’t waste my time looking for more.
Let me say it again — the fact that a new baby throws things off for a while is NOT a bad thing – it is reality. And the realist AKA borderline pessimist in me says that it is just plain something to be aware of so that we don’t over-schedule, over-plan, or ponder these ridiculously high expectations with hopelessness.
The untitled half-completed song by Grammy-award winning artists is a poignant example to me that there is a time and season for many different things — they just might not all happen immediately after your little miracle makes their grand entrance.
*Story based on an interview I recently heard on MPR with musician couple Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck (but I’ll be darned if I can find the link!).
It’s the million dollar question, right?
How does one even get to answer given that every couple’s life experience is different and combining that with the makeup of any given therapist, you would get as many different answers as many people were in the room when you posed the question to begin with.
Yes, we – therapists that is — might use different methods or different exercises that we give you for homework. We might not give you homework at all. We might want to see both of you together sometimes and each of you individually other times. We may have a more direct way or less direct way of approaching certain topics. We may be waiting for you to bring issues to the table and we might point them out to you as they come up in session. There are tons of variables, clearly.
The one and only pre-requisite that I bank on most is this: Both people involved have to want to be present. And when I say ‘present’, I don’t just mean, they have to drag their physical body into my office. I mean they have to be behaving as if to say:
“I am here because I want our relationship to change. I am not here because someone else dragged me to come. I am genuinely aware of the issues that are in the way of my spouse and I being well together. I recognize that I have a part in the [insert size: big, small, moderate…] mess that we are in. You always need two people to tango. And I care and love my partner enough to want to do something about it.”
I make it part of my initial intake. A question that won’t go unanswered when a couple walks through my door.
Because it’s an essential part of the success that you are going after. And if one, or both of you, for one reason or another, are one foot in and the other foot out the door — no matter what the other person will do or what I would do as the counselor in the room, we will not be able to get anywhere at all until this pre-requisite is taken care of.
That, right there, is the hard reality. Once you can both genuinely answer that question positively, we can get the process underway.
This post was initially motivated by a podcast a while back on MPR. The topic resurfaced via a question posed during a recent session in my office. (If you would like to listen to program on MPR, I believe it’s still available here:http://www.mprnews.org/story/2012/03/22/daily-circuit-couples-therapy)
We first talked about what the five love languages actually are. [The initial posts in this 3-part series may be found here and here. I divided them into two parts – give yourself some time to review that before you go on here. Much of this will NOT make much sense if you don’t.]
Now, the question is – Why are we talking about this anyway? Why does it matter?
The linguist in me ever so clearly sees THIS (once a linguist, always a linguist):
Using the inappropriate love language with your spouse is like talking to a French man in Chinese.
Unless one or both of them are proficient in the other person’s language, they are never going to be able to communicate their issues because they are unable to connect.
Or, like I mentioned earlier, uttering the words I love you to someone even if it were a million times a day will not mean a thing unless their love language is words of affirmation.
You have to realize that when talking to the French man in Chinese, you are wasting your time.
And your time could be much better spent if you, in fact, started learning their language and using that in conversation instead.
This would be both for your own wellness and for the wellness of your relationship.
So, where does that leave us?
First of all, you and I have to know what our spouse’s love language is.
And then, you put it to work.
When in doubt, you ask them. It’s really easy.
Now, remember that only because at one point in your life together their top two love languages were A and B, that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s what they are today.
Or even less so, that that’s what they are going to be twenty years from now.
As life circumstances change, so may our love languages.
And there is nothing wrong with that.
Again, when in doubt, investigate — Your best resource (AKA the expert) is standing right in front of you.
Pay attention to the things they are doing for you and learn from that.
More often than not, it is a good indicator of what they want done.
We often tend to use the love language that we prefer for our loved ones. Particularly before we realize the whole story of love languages.
So whatever our spouses are doing (or not doing) is valuable Intel.
Don’t ignore it.
And lastly, you will have heard talk of love tanks.
If you want a happy spouse whose love tank regularly gets refilled as needed, you and I want to take what we find to heart. I guarantee you will see the difference it makes.
Let me leave you with this (going back to the languages analogy from before, if you don’t mind):
The point in knowing your spouse’s love language is NOT that you will continue yelling “I love you” in Chinese, over and over and over again.
It’s that you will learn how to say it in French and then start saying that.
And yes, French may be hard for you.
And it may not come naturally.
And it may not be something you care all that much about.
You may never have spoken French to anyone before, ever.
You may be just fine living your life in Chinese.
Yes, and…. if you care and want to make sure that your spouse knows what it is your have been ‘yelling’ at them in whatever the foreign language of your choice is — you. will. learn. their way.
I am not one to often repost articles that circulate on the web. This one, though, by Emma Jenner, had gotten enough of my attention to – at the least – pat this woman on the back and say: ‘This is so right on’.
I don’t work with kids per se, but having couples in my office, the topic of children and parenting comes up all the time. We talk about children all the time because parents’ issues with their children and their differences approaching certain situations permeate into the couple’s relationship. And they affect the two of them. Deeply.
I love this woman’s outlook on the fearfulness of the mom and dad in the picture. I align myself 100% with what she is noticing – that we are sadly no longer as a community thriving towards the same goal. That, more often than not, we go against each other to see who can take more blame so that I don’t have to feel responsible. Even though it is my responsibility. Because our kids are – because they are our responsibility. In so many things she said, she is so painfully right.
The one piece of her insight that does come up more often than I would like it to is this: Even though we get distracted by our family’s everyday life, activities and the needs of our little ones, we ought to always remember the needs of the couple that started it all. I see this all too often. Paying attention to our children (the smaller they are, the more intense this is, of course, and that’s alright) has gotten out of control. Mothers and fathers get so fixated on the wellbeing of their kids — putting their needs ahead of their own — that they often fail to notice their marriage rotting right in front of them, in the middle of it all, because – they have not taken the time to tend to it – Sometimes in weeks, sometimes in months or years.
We can’t just want our kids to have their cup full and neglect the relationship between the two adults.
Our marriages need care.
They always have.
We will not be able to erase our failure to thrive as a couple because our kids won the first place in every tournament possible. Nor will our children be able to ignore the damage done to them and ourselves in the meantime. For me, more often than not, it goes back to the good ol’ saying: The best gift you can give your kids is a happy mom and dad. Suffering marriages are no good for families.
To read the whole article, go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/emma-jenner/modern-day-parenting-in-c_b_5552527.html
OR Find it below:
By Emma Jenner
“I generally am quite an optimistic person. I tend to believe that everything will work out for the best unless the evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not prone to drama. That’s why when I say that modern parenting is in serious trouble — crisis, even — I hope you’ll listen, and listen carefully. I’ve worked with children and their parents across two continents and two decades, and what I’ve seen in recent years alarms me. Here are the greatest problems, as I see them:
I have what I think of as “the sippy cup test,” wherein I will observe a parent getting her toddler a cup of milk in the morning. If the child says, “I want the pink sippy cup, not the blue!” yet the mum has already poured the milk into the blue sippy cup, I watch carefully to see how the parent reacts. More often than not, the mum’s face whitens and she rushes to get the preferred sippy cup before the child has a tantrum. Fail! What are you afraid of, mum? Who is in charge here? Let her have a tantrum, and remove yourself so you don’t have to hear it. But for goodness’ sake, don’t make extra work for yourself just to please her — and even more importantly, think about the lesson it teaches if you give her what she wants because she’s thrown a fit.
When children misbehave, whether it’s by way of public outburst or private surliness, parents are apt to shrug their shoulders as if to say, “That’s just the way it is with kids.” I assure you, it doesn’t have to be. Children are capable of much more than parents typically expect from them, whether it’s in the form of proper manners, respect for elders, chores, generosity or self-control. You don’t think a child can sit through dinner at a restaurant? Rubbish. You don’t think a child can clear the table without being asked? Rubbish again! The only reason they don’t behave is because you haven’t shown them how and you haven’t expected it! It’s that simple. Raise the bar and your child shall rise to the occasion.
It used to be that bus drivers, teachers, shopkeepers and other parents had carte blanche to correct an unruly child. They would act as the mum and dad’s eyes and ears when their children were out of sight, and everyone worked towards the same shared interest: raising proper boys and girls. This village was one of support. Now, when someone who is not the child’s parent dares to correct him, the mum and dad get upset. They want their child to appear perfect, and so they often don’t accept teachers’ and others’ reports that he is not. They’ll storm in and have a go at a teacher rather than discipline their child for acting out in class. They feel the need to project a perfect picture to the world and unfortunately, their insecurity is reinforced because many parents do judge one another. If a child is having a tantrum, all eyes turn on the mum disapprovingly. Instead she should be supported, because chances are the tantrum occurred because she’s not giving in to one of her child’s demands. Those observers should instead be saying, “Hey, good work — I know setting limits is hard.”
I think it’s wonderful that parents have all sorts of electronics to help them through airline flights and long waits at the doctor’s office. It’s equally fabulous that we can order our groceries online for delivery, and heat up healthy-ish food at the touch of a button on the microwave. Parents are busier than ever, and I’m all for taking the easy way when you need it. But shortcuts can be a slippery slope. When you see how wonderful it is thatCaillou can entertain your child on a flight, don’t be tempted to put it on when you are at a restaurant. Children must still learn patience. They must still learn to entertain themselves. They must still learn that not all food comes out steaming hot and ready in three minutes or less, and ideally they will also learn to help prepare it. Babies must learn to self-soothe instead of sitting in a vibrating chair each time they’re fussy. Toddlers need to pick themselves up when they fall down instead of just raising their arms to mum and dad. Show children that shortcuts can be helpful, but that there is great satisfaction in doing things the slow way too.
Naturally, parents are wired to take care of their children first, and this is a good thing for evolution! I am an advocate of adhering to a schedule that suits your child’s needs, and of practices like feeding and clothing your children first. But parents today have taken it too far, completely subsuming their own needs and mental health for the sake of their children. So often I see mums get up from bed again and again to fulfill the whims of their child. Or dads drop everything to run across the zoo to get their daughter a drink because she’s thirsty. There is nothing wrong with not going to your child when she wants yet another glass of water at night. There’s nothing wrong with that dad at the zoo saying, “Absolutely you can have something to drink, but you must wait until we pass the next drinking fountain.” There is nothing wrong with using the word “No” on occasion, nothing wrong with asking your child to entertain herself for a few minutes because mummy would like to use the toilet in private or flick through a magazine for that matter.
I fear that if we don’t start to correct these five grave parenting mistakes, and soon, the children we are raising will grow up to be entitled, selfish, impatient and rude adults. It won’t be their fault — it will be ours. We never taught them any differently, we never expected any more of them. We never wanted them to feel any discomfort, and so when they inevitably do, they are woefully unprepared for it. So please, parents and caregivers from London to Los Angeles, and all over the world, ask more. Expect more. Share your struggles. Give less. And let’s straighten these children out, together, and prepare them for what they need to be successful in the real world and not the sheltered one we’ve made for them.”