Most parents, if not all, want to spend time with their children. But some have difficulty fitting family time into their busy schedule. Work, children’s TV time and household chores always seem to get in the way of parent quality time with kids. And despite the best intentions, most parents find that spending special time with children does not happen unless parents mark a specific date and time in the family calendar.
Because our lives are so full of hurry and worry and all sorts of activities, we often find ourselves stressing on the importance of spending “quality time” with our children. Planning out of town trips, going to the zoo or theme parks, shopping for new toys, watching a movie, eating out, or any enjoyable activity that may also translate to a considerable amount of expense–a blowout or treat perhaps. I am guilty of this, especially when I come home from a business trip, and I know most parents are as well. This attitude may stem from the guilt of knowing that we do not have enough time to spend with our children or that we only spend time with them once we have everything else done.
This is what we can call “guilty parenting”. When we feel bad about an inability to do something for our children, we try to make up for it through some compensatory action. Guilty parenting will at times be an overcompensation. Because children will always be glad to have their parents around, with or without a new toy. While there is nothing wrong with treating your kids once in a while, this should not be a substitute for good parenting.
As parents, we need to be there and be witnesses to our children’s lives. This may mean creating good times with them, but more importantly, it means being there when times are tough. It means encouraging a child to try again when he gives up on learning to do something. It means teaching a hyperactive toddler to channel his energies into something positive or creative. This is quantity time. Because quality time ends once the weekend trip is over. But quantity time requires that we be there for our children as much as we can. It means sharing in your child’s little successes and everyday struggles. And this requires time. And patience. And a willingness to participate in a long-term process.
As I see now, this is not something a lot of parents can do for their children. And this is not to alienate parents who have less time for their children because of jobs or circumstances beyond their control. The point is that quantity time matters just as much, if not more, than quality time.
Because we live in a society where money and things have become too important, it is easy to justify spending just quality time with the family as the rest of the time is spent earning and providing for the family’s “needs”. But child rearing is not a matter of economics. It’s a matter of choice. It’s a matter of putting your family on the top of the list and before everything else.
Yes it entails sacrifices. A whole lot. For us it meant career setbacks for both Turo and I. Turo left his field of expertise so he could work closer to where we live and have more time for the family despite working full-time. I gave up postgraduate studies and only accept freelance assignments so I can work from home and have more time to look after our kids.
What have we learned so far? It’s not true that we don’t have a choice because we are always pressed by the need to provide a good future for our children. We always do. We just need to step up and make those decisions. There will be hard choices but the more we choose for our families’ sake (and not our families’ material requirements) the clearer our priorities become.
I look forward to the day when parents begin squeezing in their schedule into their family life, and not family time squeezing in to their everyday schedule. Our time is free, but unless it’s freely given it is of no value.