Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is Quality Time Just Another PBS Special?

I love Mondays that kick off with a great debate. Don’t you?
This Monday’s debate was staged over at A Dad’s Point of View, hosted by author and radio show host Bruce Sallan, and focused on the myth that quality matters more than quantity when it comes to your kids.
His point of view? That you can’t plan when your kids are going to up to you. Quality time is a myth created by PBS to make you feel better about not spending enough time at home.
Mine? That quality time absolutely exists, it can be planned, it does you both good, and it’s something that you and you alone are going to make happen.
The Argument for Quality Time
Before you can argue for or against quality time, I think you need to define what, exactly, quality time means to you.
Healthy Parenting defines quality time as time spent doing something that’s meaningful to both the parent and the child. I’m inclined to disagree.
For me, quality time is when my kids have 100% of my undivided attention. 
It was pointed out that as a work-at-home parent, I have more time to spend with my kids than the average Joe. Unless I’ve run screaming from the house (not as unusual as you might think), I’m usually rolling around somewhere. They know they can find me. They know where to find me.
But being a work-at-home parent isn’t the same as being a stay-at-home parent. On top of a six to eight hour workday, I spend most of my day with one eye on my Facebook and email via my Crackberry. (Okay, HTC Ozone SmartPhone. You know what I mean.)
I have the freedom to take off and take the kids to dance, but I’m usually taking notes on a project while I’m there. The laptop comes with me to the doctor’s office, and I’ve been known to bounce back and forth between Twitter chats and reality while waiting for swim lessons to be done.
The moral of the story? Even though I’m home most of the day, I’m still not as there for my kids as I could be. That frustrates them sometimes, and spurred my firm belief in the importance of quality time.
Life Lessons for Working from Home
When I first started working from home, my younger two hadn’t started preschool yet. (They’re first and third graders now. Ay yi yi.) Someone, and I wish I remember who, gave me the best advice about working from home I’ve ever heard.
She said, “Give your children your undivided attention for the first hour of your day, and don’t work through your lunch break. Have an established quitting time. Stick to it, and just be a mom until it’s time for bed. That’s the only way you’re going to get anything done without making them feel like they’re being ignored. You can’t afford the therapy bill.”
In other words, even though I was going to be there, the quantity of time I was going to have to be the best mom I could be was going to be limited. I needed to be sure I was working plenty of quality time into my day to balance that out.
Quantity Matters…but Quality Does Too
Picture this. You’re married. Your spouse spends nine hours a day at work. They have an hour commute to and from. They get a good…let’s say eight hours of sleep a night. That’s nineteen hours of their day already swallowed between work and sleep. Give them an hour to get up and get dressed in the morning and an hour at the gym, and that leaves…what? Three hours?
Now, imagine they spend those three hours on the computer playing video games with their friends instead of hanging out with you. How’s that going to make you feel?
Quantity time is necessary for stability, but if you’re not getting any quality time in there your kids are going to feel about as loved and appreciated as you would if your spouse was blowing you off for World of Warcraft every night. They need times when they have your undivided attention.
If they’re always coming in second to your to-do list (and I know, oh, I know, how easy it is for that to-do list to swallow your day), they’re going to think they come second to you.
And that’s why quality time matters.
What are your thoughts? Does quality time exist? Or is it just something PBS made up to make moms feel better about sliding back into the workforce?

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