284. Quality Time

The term “quality time” started getting popular in the 1970s. I think it was used as an attempt to make people feel better about not spending much time with their children. Somehow, the “quality” of the time parents spent with their children was going to compensate for the lack of quantity. It didn’t take long for the phrase to be used more as a parody of itself. The bottom line is, the less time parents spend with their children, the less time they spend with their children. If parents used to spend more time with their children, the quality of that time was not necessarily affected by the quantity.
I once overheard a daughter complaining to her mother that her mother wasn’t around enough. I identified with both the mother and the daughter. When I was a child, my mother was usually home, but my father wasn’t. And when my daughters were children, I was often attending classes or meetings in the evenings. Once, I even attended a lecture on the importance of spending time with my children, instead of spending time with my children.
I intervened in the mother/daughter conversation. I said to the daughter, “It sounds as if you love your mother, and wish you could spend more time with her.” She nodded, and her mother assured her daughter that she felt the same way. My reason for intervening was the memory of how easily that kind of conversation can elicit accusations and stir up feelings of guilt. The hard, painful reality is that people who love each other often have to be away from each other when they’d rather be together. There are other possibilities, but that’s one worth considering.
When I got divorced, had my own apartment, and had to spend lots of time away from my children, I started to understand the “Disneyland Dad” stereotype. If I could only have a little time with them, I wanted that time to be memorable, valuable. I wanted it to be “quality time.” It never occurred to me that we could just spend regular time together, and that that time could be memorable and valuable.
People have been spending quality time together since long before the 1970s, and they’ve also been struggling with the difficulty of not being able to be together as much as they’d like to. And it’s not an issue that’s going to go away. Adults have their careers, hobbies, chores, and other adults. Children have school, lessons, team sports, and friends. I hope that they somehow also find
some time to be together. And when they do, I hope they don’t feel pressure to make sure that it’s “quality time.”

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