Is there really a sweet spot on how much “quality time” you should spend with your kids? Guilty mom/parent syndrome penetrates deep in our culture because we want to spend valuable time with our kids yet still balance the rest of our lives too.
Quality Time Defined
Quality time can be defined as any activity that allows you to learn about your child’s interests, assess their strengths and challenges, teach life skills, or make them feel special and loved. According to a recent poll, full-time employed fathers spend an average of 1 hour a day with their children while working moms spend just 2 hours... Is that enough?
We’ve all been there – We rush home to see our little one before it’s time to get through their bedtime routine.. Although parents who have been in the game for a little while have somehow figured out a groove, it still doesn’t get easier by any means.
The older they get, the more their needs change: they wants us more, need us more and notice when we’re gone more. New parents are struggling with figuring out that said groove. “I want to be 100% at work, 100% at home, spend time with my kids, and never give up the old me!” Why can’t I have it all… A pressing question on many parents minds.
They say, “you can have it all, just not all at the same time.” Is that really true? Throughout this journey of parenthood, we constantly question if we are doing it right. You know that meme: “Parenting is like folding a fitted sheet, no one knows how to do it right”… Nailed it! Do you ever find yourself sitting with your LO (little one) as they squish around with play doh or pretend to cook in their kitchen set, and ask yourself, “is this enough?” We are always trying to live up to the expectations we set for ourselves and those that are set for us by others.
When I was growing up, I most certainly remember my mom being around but I don’t recall her sitting with me playing dolls or working on puzzles. We received public assistance as she worked two jobs with someone else’s Social to make ends meet… to give us the little luxuries that now somehow have become staples of life. While she didn’t help me with my homework, I learned strong work ethic. While she also didn’t take me on play dates, I learned how to appreciate people’s differences. She taught me that the cleaning lady deserves the same respect as the CEO. I learned a lot from her… but it wasn’t because she sat on the floor with me. So, why is the pressure so strong to do those things today?
My days look something like this: wake up at 6:15 am (or about) and run to get ready so I can be out of the house by 7:15 am (sadly I don’t see the LO’s because they’re sleeping). Once I’m at the office, I spend a good part of my day working on being the best professional I can be. I’m in HR so most days I’m mentally exhausted by the time I leave work. Now living in the suburbs, I’m a suburb commuter, you know, the ones running out the door to catch the 5:43 pm train. Sometimes they push to be at the front of the elevator… Yup, that’s me! Always rushing because I have to be home by 6:30 pm(I WANT to be home by 6:30 pm). I walk in the door and the very first thing I do after I get a monkey hug from my little ones is to throw myself on their mercy to engage in whatever they’re doing at that moment… whether it should be superhero fights or dinosaur adventures, I’m there kids!!
I’m blessed to have a mom who has a meal for me when I get home (but I know not all of us are so lucky). Thankfully, I’m able to PLAY for an hour or two before we have to get started on our nighttime routine. We do bath time, teeth time, book time and prayer. Now it’s 9:30 pm… Was that enough? It has to be, because it’s all I have…
There’s a lot of stress that comes with trying to be a great mother. Indeed, the researchers say that some of that stress may be driven by what they call “intensive mothering” beliefs. These believes are said to have ratcheted up the standards for what it takes to be considered a good mother in recent decades. The idea that mothers’ time with children is “irreplaceable” and “sacred,” they contend, has led to mothers cutting back on sleep and time to themselves in order to lavish more time and attention on their kids.
Now let’s consider that phrase “intensive parenting”… The way I interpret it is we as parents want to do everything we can to ensure we meet a child’s every need. Certain cultural pressures exist that lead us to believe we need to sacrifice everything, including ourselves, because this makes for a successful child, teenager and young adult (what we think in a competitive society). We directly correlate the time we spend with them now to who they will grow to be then. Growing up we weren’t rich by any means, but shit, I felt rich... I had everything I needed. How do I recreate that for my kids? How do I balance the “quality time” I know they need now while still teaching them the lessons that will make them good human beings, partners, and friends later?
The Double Standard
So… I love my husband dearly. Is he a good dad? Yes. However, I definitely feel that pressure to intensively parent more than my husband does as no one ever asks him “how he’s managing to balance it all”. Sometimes I also put higher expectations on myself… I don’t know why it is that I’m trying to be the perfect mother but I definitely am. He can come home, sit on the couch, get on his phone and join them for tech or TV time and it’s all good. He parents differently than I do; He doesn’t put that pressure on himself. For him, being present is enough. I can’t count a number of times I have become frustrated with him for not coloring with them or sitting on the floor with them… but they don’t love him any less. In fact, they adore their dad. Why? How? Maybe it’s possible that he’s modeling his father’s parenting because it worked for them… but in my eyes, it’s not enough. There has to be a happy medium, no?
Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that the amount of time spent doesn’t directly correlate with the smartest, most well–rounded children. Some studies have actually found one key instance in which parent time can be particularly harmful to children… That can happen when parents, mothers, in particular, are stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious. Kei Nomaguchi, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University, introduced a phenomenon called Mother’s Stress which he describes as happening “when mothers are stressed because of the juggling with work and trying to find time with kids.” He goes on to further explain that this Mother’s Stress “may actually be affecting their kids poorly.” Crazy isn’t it?!
The American Academy of Pediatrics also emphasizes that children need unstructured time to themselves without the engagement of parents for social and cognitive development. Translation – Kids also need time alone. As a result, it’s ok for them to get bored and for us sit back and not try to entertain and fill every second of their day..
But going back to quality time – Aim to seize quality moments, not quantity. The amount of time doesn’t matter nearly as much as the special pieces of time do… Especially because you only have a few years before they only want to hang out with their friends…;)
Quality Time to Us:
Schedule a date | Take the time to plan and schedule regular quality time. This way it gives them something to look forward to. Stick to it, try not to cancel.
Add something to your morning routine | Try to add just 10 minutes to your morning routine that is dedicated to your LO. This could be doing stretches together to start the day or letting them help you make their lunch or snack for school. If it helps, set a timer on your phone to make sure you are banking those special moments together.
Bedtime routine | Just as you can sneak in some quality time when you wake up, do the same for bedtime.
Spontaneous dance parties | This is a favorite for the boys and me! I play music at home and when one of our favorite jams comes on… the Family Dance party starts!
Exercise together | Although your kids may not understand, working out together & staying active is a great message to send. Play tag, shoot hoops, or if your kids are younger, push them on the swings… See how many swings they can swing while you do a lap around the yard or park.
Cook dinner | Cooking for a family can feel like a chore to you – But to your child, someone who craves time with you, it’s a special time together. Believe me when I say that I know sometimes it may seem easier to just do it yourself... But if you work together, your kids will learn a lot of useful life skills (in addition to getting that time with you). That hits Acts of Service too… since you are teaching your child a new skill while preparing food.
Get back to childhood basics | Play doctor together. Make a box fort or an epic rocket ship together. Put your imaginations to the test and see what you two can make of a plain cardboard box together. If you are usually the reserved/serious parent, what a treat it would be for them to see you get really silly! Embrace something that really shows how happy you are to spend time together. It doesn’t have to be complex.
Rose and thorn | The idea is to ask each family member what was the rose and thorn of their day. What was the best and worst thing that happened to you today? It only takes a few minutes and would be a great way to ensure you connect with your child every single day.
Play at the playground | Don’t get lost on your phone or chat with the other parents (both of which I do most times) instead actually PLAY with the kids. Be the one who organizes the hide and seek game.
Discover new places | Traveling with children may seem overwhelming, but exploring new places together can be such an amazing bonding experience. Whether a new park or new country, EXPLORE!
Tech time out | We are all so tied to technology these days – Consider taking a tech time out as a family. It’s hard at first but if you keep at it, it gets easier and can be so freeing.
Do chores together | If your kids have regular chores, maybe pick one day a week when you are not rushed and plan to tackle the chores (yours AND theirs!) together. They’ll get to learn new life skills while spending time quality time together and you’ll get through the to-do list faster! Even Toddlers can learn chores, don’t get discouraged if they’re young.
**Remember… watching media (TV Shows, Movies, YouTube) really isn’t considered quality time Listen we’ve all done it. ( I’m guilty too)
unless it allows you to engage in some form of meaningful conversation ** For example, you might want to ask: “what was your favorite part?”, “wasn’t that so crazy when…happened?”, “what would you do if you were in that situation?”, “what do you think will happen in the next episode?”
Your kids will love you regardless, make the time you can, and don’t forget about you. I promise both of you will be happier for it!
Please don’t forget, Motherhood is not a competition to see who has the smartest kids, cleanest house or healthiest dinners. Motherhood is YOUR journey with YOUR kids… via MomDuty