Updated: March 11, 2013 6:13AM
I stumbled upon a theory last week called the Myth of Quality Time. The theory states that the concept of quality time as it pertains to childrearing is contrived.
It’s the quantity of time that’s truly important, according to the online commenter presenting the theory. For example, five hours spent with children folding laundry and pulling weeds trumps a two-hour family outing to the local bowling alley.
The theory struck a nerve. In my own experience, many of my most heartfelt parenting moments have come at the most mundane times. My 5-year-old son, Peter, tends to share his intimate thoughts while eating lunch. My 6-year-old boy, Bubba, opens up on long car rides alone.
Rarely do these candid moments come at our long-awaited waterpark weekend or while sitting in the stands at our annual trip to U.S. Cellular Field.
Shannon Cassidy said the definition of “quality time” is a big part of the problem. The executive coach and author said the term “quality time” is often designated for big events like a father-son fishing trip or a museum visit. In fact, quality time can be had during a 30-minute game of Wii with your children.
“I think the myth is that quality time has to be long,” Cassidy said.
The Myth of Quality Time is likely just another weapon in the Mommy Wars. This online war of words pits stay-at-home moms against working mothers. Rather than support each other, participants argue over who is the better mother.
Cassidy interviewed both working moms and stay-at-home moms for her new book, “The 5 Degree Principle, How Small Changes Lead to Big Results.” She found good and bad parents in both camps.
“I don’t think it’s about whether you work or not, it’s about what you do with the time you have,” Cassidy said.
She said being physically and mentally available to your children is the most important factor. A stay-at-home parent talking on his or her cell phone at noon while the children run around the park isn’t actively parenting. Nor is the working parent who rushes home to attend a child’s basketball game only to spend the entire game checking email on a BlackBerry.
Dr. Margret Nickels, of the Chicago-based Erikson Institute, agreed, citing studies that find typical working parents don’t harm their children by going to work. Parents who are rarely home have a negative impact on their children, but moms and dads with fairly traditional hours shouldn’t feel guilty.
“Really, what is most important to the child is having their parents’ attention,” said Nickels, a clinical psychologist and director of Erikson’s Center for Children and Families.
Yet, working parents often feel a sense of guilt. They sometimes try to make up for lost time by planning elaborate trips, getting involved in travel sports teams or taking on other grand activities. Ironically, this can be counterproductive. Research finds that the main thing children of working parents want is to feel less rushed, she said.
The importance of downtime is also something stay-at-home parents need to keep in mind. Such parents can feel obligated to justify leaving a paid career by filling up their day with volunteer and extracurricular activities. Downtime can even become quality time by asking children to help out or engaging them in conversation while doing chores.
As for the Myth of Quality Time, I’ll say it’s been debunked. Quality time isn’t a myth. It’s real. And it can be had with children almost anytime and anywhere.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business reporter who traded his reporter’s notebook for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org