The Myth Of Quality Time

I originally posted this last year, but I was reminded of this idea recently and thought it was worth re-posting. I’m a classic example of someone who tries to micromanage experiences to achieve maximum quality time. I can get so focused on creating the perfect experience that I fail to notice the natural and spontaneous ones. In fact, often times, the most memorable experiences are the ones that weren’t planned. They were the ones that you only see if you are intentional about showing up each day and putting the time into the relationships that matter to us most. The myth about quality time is that it isn’t a thing or an experience. It’s not an isolated event. It’s a life. It’s a collection of little things that, upon reflection, are truly everything

Anyways. I hope you read this today and enjoy. 

I recently read an op-ed column of The New York Times  with a very provocative and intriguing title: The Myth of Quality Time. 

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. I mean, it really got my brain firing on all cylinders. It got me thinking about our busy lives 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 “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 SO hard not to bicker about who was late to said “quality time” and 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.

There is nothing wrong with scheduling fun trips with the family or special nights with our spouse. I love doing those things! The question is not asking if those things are good for you to do. The question is, are we substituting scheduled “quality time” for plain, old fashioned – time. Are our schedules so full that the only time we see each other is for these one off moments of highly engineered, Pinterest worthy experiences?

The problem is not that we schedule fun or special time together. The problem is that we place the burden of an entire relationship on these isolated experiences.

Are we forgetting that you can’t squeeze a lemon and expect orange juice? If we don’t put in the time with our loved ones on a regular basis, why would we expect to experience amazing quality time simply because we scheduled it?

That sounds obvious, but we all do it. We feel bad that we’ve been away from the kids because of work, but are frustrated why they won’t open up to us during a surprise trip to a favorite restaurant. 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.

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 little moments that hold extraordinary meaning. Yes to putting in the time is takes to create something of value – something quality.

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