There’s No Such Thing As Quality Time

Category: Weekly Columns

I keep learning this great lesson. It’s something I know, but seem to have to experience repeatedly for it to sink into my stubborn head. With kids, there’s no such thing as quality time, only quantity time.

Some people actually believe they can schedule quality time with their kids—moments when their kids will open up, reveal what’s really going on, and share. They want to schedule this time the way they schedule a business lunch. But, kids don’t work on these kinds of schedules. They open up when they’re good and ready, and it’s usually when you least expect it. This happened one weekend a couple of years ago with my younger son.

I bribed him to come skiing with me. Yeah, it’s hard to believe, but he wasn’t interested. My older son was, but my younger one got cold the first time we tried and has been against it ever since. My younger one wanted to quit early, as he was tired. Instead of berating him as I’d done in the past or just displayed my impatience, I supported him and told him he was doing great. I didn’t push him. The upshot was, both he and his brother were tired after a couple of hours.

The same thing happened the second day. Again, I supported them. Each day, as a result, we were off the slopes and back in the condo early. It was hard for me, as I so wanted my boys to enjoy winter sports.

So, how does all this relate to the quality-time question? Simple. I hung with my boys all weekend. I let them set the pace. I was there for them. I didn’t make it about my pleasure this time, as there are other times I can look out for myself. I’m not a martyr parent, which I believe can be quite destructive, but that is another subject altogether.

The bribe for my younger son was a Lego set he really wanted. When we returned home from our trip, he stayed up till after midnight working on it. At 12:30, he came into my room, sobbing because he’d broken it. I knew he was just running on fumes and desire. So I coaxed him back into bed and he fell asleep within moments.

The next morning, he arose and immediately went back to the Legos. After a while, he came to me asking for my help to fix the broken Lego. I was about to say, “Later,” as I was intent on what I was doing. But, I realized this could be a breakthrough, since he is the kind of kid who doesn’t reach out and ask for help. So, I said, “Sure,” and we worked on it together until we finally figured out the problem. He was ecstatic, and then didn’t want me to leave as he continued to put it together. This is the quantity time thing; staying there, being there. It was a special moment and I’ll cherish it.

It’s these moments that matter most in our lives—the little ones, like building Legos with your 8-year-old and figuring out where the mistake was. I hope I never say “later” to my kids again.

This theme was hammered home on a more recent ski trip I took with that same son, who’s now 12. Ironically, he actually sort of enjoys skiing now, while his older brother has given it up to pursue his rock star dreams. My younger son, being more of a pleaser, has just gone along, or so I thought. It wasn’t clear if he was skiing out of a genuine interest or a desire to please me.

But I do know I wasn’t helping the cause by my impatience with his general slow movements, even to the simple things like putting on his boots. I’m Mr. Let’s Go Now while he’s Let’s Take It Easy. Another reminder that he is not me. It always seemed, on previous trips, that all my efforts to help him with tips were in vain. By the time we’d get to the slopes my energy was negative and he felt it. This trip was different. First, we both suffered from bad altitude headaches on arrival. Taking care of him, mothering him so to speak, allowed me to further recognize he’s still a child.

Thankfully, the next morning he and I felt just fine. I made a commitment to go at his pace, be patient, no matter what, and that the goal of this day of skiing was just to be with him. The result: we had our best skiing day together by far. I could see that he fed off my supportive energy, and we communicated and enjoyed the day fully. I went slowly, he listened to my tips, and we laughed and had a great time. And his skiing improved more in that one day than in all our previous outings combined.

What a lesson in attitude for this Dad. What a lesson for all relationships! When you show up with an open heart, an open mind, and focus on your child instead of yourself, you have every opportunity to win, to bond. This is the quality time we all strive for, though it was the quantity of time together that allowed the quality time to surface.

Once again, one of my mantras came true: the only thing good about getting older is the possibility of getting better.