The Myth of Quality Time

I was reading the op-ed column of The New York Times recently (Doesn’t that sound so impressive??? No? Oh, ok…) Anyway, this particular piece had a very provocative and intriguing title: The Myth of Quality Time. 

Come on…admit it…you are just as intrigued as I was, right?

Seriously though, this article made my heart sing. You can find the whole piece here, and I highly recommend you give it a read.

This piece really made me think. Like really got my brain firing on all cylinders. It got me thinking about our busy lives (and yes I said “our,” as in the universal collective) and how we run from one thing to the next on a daily basis and try to schedule, factor in, and manufacture “quality time” with our loved ones. We schedule this so called “quality time,” squeezed in between school, dentist appointments, social obligations, and work.

We become adept at scheduling, at eeking out a few minutes here, a few minutes there, to “carve out space” for others. We feel bad about our busy schedules so we become oh so creative; we consult our Pinterest boards and our bank accounts and schedule some good, old fashioned “quality time” with our kids and family to make up for all the busyness.

That should do, we say. That will make it all better. We will connect. We will feel close. We WILL spend quality time together!

But then the kids are grouchy or the special meal at the special restaurant is only so-so or you and your spouse are trying oh so hard not to bicker about who was late to said “quality time” that everyone threatens to crack under the pressure of enjoying this special time together.

This is it! This is our scheduled quality time with each other! We better not miss it! And dangit, we are going to enjoy it!!!

Frank Bruni, author of The Myth of Quality Time, puts it this way:

We delude ourselves when we say otherwise, when we invoke and venerate “quality time,” a shopworn phrase with a debatable promise: that we can plan instances of extraordinary candor, plot episodes of exquisite tenderness, engineer intimacy in an appointed hour.

We can try. We can cordon off one meal each day or two afternoons each week and weed them of distractions. We can choose a setting that encourages relaxation and uplift. We can fill it with totems and frippery — a balloon for a child, sparkling wine for a spouse — that signal celebration and create a sense of the sacred…

But people tend not to operate on cue (emphasis added). At least our moods and emotions don’t. We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones. The surest way to see the brightest colors, or the darkest ones, is to be watching and waiting and ready for them.

Bruni goes on to share his experience of spending real, actual, and measurable time with his family. How family members randomly opened up to him, not because he prodded, but because of the time he put in with them. He shares how he knows exactly how his grandfather felt about God, death and religion, not because he asked him, but because of the countless, casual conversations they shared that eventually turned to more serious topics.

I am not a math person, but what I’m trying to say here all boils down to probability; the more you are with someone, the more you are likely to have “quality time” with them.

Forget your Pinterest boards of “fun family activities.” Forget scheduling the special meal that will make your kids’ hearts suddenly overflow with gratitude for you. Forget planning that one, really amazing trip that will leave you and your spouse marveling at the mutually shared and enjoyed “quality time.”

What your kids need isn’t a special trip, adventure, or meal. What they need, is you.

Or how about this one. What your spouse needs to feel connected to you isn’t a special date night with the romantic works (although those are great too), what they need is consistent time together that communicates more than a night on the town ever could.

Plus, we forget that you can’t squeeze a lemon and expect orange juice. What I mean is, if you don’t put in the time with your loved ones on a regular basis, why would you expect to experience amazing quality time simply because you scheduled it? That’s ridiculous, but we all do it. We feel bad that we’ve been away from the kids because of work, but are frusrated why they won’t open up to us over dinner. Or we feel distant from our spouse because of schedules that have pulled us in different directions and wonder why we still don’t feel connected after just one date night.

Like Bruni says, we can’t “invoke quality time.” It sneaks up on us, in those random, unschedule, and unsolicited moments.

We all get caught up in the rat race of life. It is oh so easy to do and none of us are immune. But is it possible we need to do a better job of saying no to our schedules, and yes to our kids? Or maybe for others, needing to do a better job of saying no to work, and yes to our spouse?

Or perhaps all of us simply need to do a better job of saying no to doing, and yes to being.

Yes to being there. Yes to being present. Yes to being all in.

ordinary moments quote

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