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Time with Your Kids: Quality or Quantity?

Description

Greg Smalley explains why your kids need both quality time AND quantity time.

Dear Greg,

With everything it takes to work at the office and run a household, how can I find quality time to spend with my children? It seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer:

You’ve asked an important question.  It may be that you have more time you can set aside for your kids than you realize right now.  If not, it’s crucial that you put out an effort to find or make some. 

A few years ago, family experts were saying that what’s important is “quality time,” not “quantity time.”  Further research has shown that kids need both “quality” and “quantity” time with their parents.  In fact, the more involved parents are with their children, the less likely they are to have social, emotional, or academic problems, use drugs or alcohol, become involved in crime, or engage in premarital sex. 

One thing to keep in mind is that it’s not always possible to plan meaningful interactions between a parent and a child. Such serendipitous moments can’t be cooked up and crammed into a few minutes of “quality time” every day. Many opportunities to teach or model moral values may catch you off-guard and will be gone in the blink of an eye. You can’t seize the moment if you're not there to do the seizing.  And that means spending lots of “quantity” time together with your kids. 

Without more detailed information about your family situation it’s hard to know exactly how to advise you.  But, your inquiry leads me to believe that you may need to re-examine your priorities.  You can begin by honestly asking yourself a few simple questions.  Is your employment outside the home a matter of providing for basic needs, or are you driven by desires to get ahead materially or a longing for personal significance?  Are there any aspects of “maintaining a household” that you can afford to sacrifice?  Do you attach a greater value to status or appearance than to the well-being of your kids?  After all, a spotless home isn’t nearly as important as a close relationship with your children. 

Another suggestion: one of the easiest ways to make more time for your kids is to turn off the TV.  In the average American home, the television is on 49 hours a week.  By way of contrast, the average amount of time that both parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children is 39 minutes a week.  By limiting TV and other media, you’ll have more time to spend in activities like reading to your kids, playing board games together, or taking a walk to a local park.

It’s also important to avoid the temptation to get your children overly involved outside the home.  Some parents feel pressure to sign their children up for numerous sports teams, music and dance lessons, social clubs, and all kinds of community organizations.  I encourage you to guard against this mindset, which keeps everyone on the fast track.  Kids don’t need a dozen different weekly activities.  They need quality and quantity time with loving, involved, and committed parents. 

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