The myth of quality time.

This is highly likely to end up with someone shouting, “Mommmmm!!!!”

This is highly likely to end up with someone shouting, “Mommmmm!!!!”

Not that I’m a conspiracy theorist, but it seems the phrase Quality Time’ was coined as one more way to make working mothers feel (even more) guilty about what we are not doing every day, every minute, to be perfect mothers.  Before my oldest daughter was born (almost 20 years ago now), I read every single Sears book, every Spock book, every word of every ‘Everything to Expect…’ book.  This was mostly because I actually had time to read something other than the back of a Children’s Tylenol bottle, or the mess of the now bi-weekly Scholastic packet that aims to guilt me into buying trillions more books than we could ever want, need or read.

After she was born, I followed every Baby Beethoven recommendation, went to Mommy and Me Gymboree classes, baby groups, blah blah blah, and ‘wore’ her 24/7, etc. You get the point…  Who knew my baby was an introvert and could have used a little alone time?  I started to figure this out early in her toddler years when I would finish up cleaning the kitchen, cooking, straightening toys- a mad dash on the weekends to catch up because I still thought I needed to have a clean house too– and gallop over to my beautiful little darlin’ happily surrounded in a pile of books, (my) face a-shine with anticipation and say (shout), “ready for mama to read to you, sweetie?” and she would hold out her hand as if to stop the incoming 18 wheeler of my enthusiasm and say, “no sanks, mama, me read it for self!”

A little spontaneous kitchen wrestling never hurt anyone… I hope.

A little spontaneous kitchen wrestling never hurt anyone… I hope.

One of the many problems with ‘quality time’ is that it is typically on the parents’ schedule.  After a long week of preschool or high school, baby gym over-rated bouncy crap or toddler infectious effluvia sharing groups, kids need a break to, and the chance to have life happen on their own timeline.  Add weekend soccer (don’t get me started here), evening sports games (here either), and Hebrew School (which is TWICE a week, REALLY??!!) and their whole week is on someone else’s terms.

Another problem is that quality time is scripted, and assumes the unstated but looming assumption of an evaluative state, of high or low ‘quality time.’ If the opposite of (high) quality time is ‘poor’ or ‘low’ quality,” then I’m out.  If the opposite of high quality time is ‘ordinary time,’ then I’m in.

Let’s hear it for ordinary time, or as my husband, Jon, says, ‘quantity time.’  “Just be there. Great stuff happens when you’re just there and don’t try to orchestrate the crap out of everything.”

This is going to end badly, but it was fun while it lasted!

This is going to end badly, but it was fun while it lasted!

Some of the best times we’ve had as a family were spontaneous, ridiculous, unplanned and totally happenstance.  It might have been only seconds, and not part of a rehearsed 50 minute clinical play hour, but it was fabulous.  The times when we are working together on family chores, or watching episode number 4000 of Modern Family, playing front yard football, volunteering together, or sharing the cooking of Thanksgiving dinner– some of those are our best times.

So feel free to let go of the high ‘quality time’ bar, and join us at the (lowered)  ‘quantity time’ bar.  Just hang around your kids and see what happens: Ask a question, make a joke, walk to the mailbox together, turn up your favorite Grateful Dead tune (I don’t have one either), or bust out a crazy dance at breakfast.

Please do not look closely at this photo and notice that my kids are stabbing each other with forks, and apparently quite happy about it!

Please do not look closely at this photo and notice that my kids are stabbing each other with forks, and apparently quite happy about it!

Let your family just be what it is meant to be without the pressure of performing in quality time. You’ll be glad you did.

We take the phrase “I’m going to gobble you up” pretty seriously at our house.

We take the phrase “I’m going to gobble you up” pretty seriously at our house.

This blog was originally published by the Times Union and can be accessed here.

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