Time to retire 'quality time'

Elise T. Chisolm

September 25, 1990|By Elise T. Chisolm

I REALLY GET sick of that buzz phrase "quality time.'' And I don't think it is fair to the people who are trying hard to make connections with their offspring. It denotes typecasting of parents and their jobs.

Let me explain. Quality time has been described as time spent with your child when you are too rushed with your career to give the child more time, a kind of catch-up game plan.

I observed a Q-timer the other day -- a career mother who gets home at 5 and takes her child from school to my neighborhood park every afternoon at the same time. She reads to her; then they play cards; after the cards they go to the swings; and after the swings, the mother sometimes says, "We'll go to the mall to play a video." All this in the hour before she has to fix dinner.

At the beach this summer, a young father was playing Monopoly with his kids on a blanket. The father just came down on weekends to see the kids, after the mother had them all week. The father had a beach ball, two kites, a rubber ducky inner-tube, a miniature tennis game, child's snorkel equipment, shovels and buckets. He was giving his kids quality time, he told me.

I say you don't have to entertain your child all the time.

This is an old saw, "quality time," and I'd like to see it retired.

I'd like to see parents give kids just plain old unscheduled time.

Quality time can be quantity time even if both parents work. The time can be unscheduled, unstructured, down time, parallel time, or just lying on the beach by your child. You, the sand and the sea are enough for some children.

Example: You want to clean the house. You don't have to make your spouse take the kids somewhere, let the kids just be there, or let them help. Ever watched two toddlers play together? They don't. They just sit there, smiling, glad to be in one another's presence. They know how to just hang out.

It is a given that more mothers are working than ever before, and I am proud of that fact, but the term ''quality time'' has been stretched to mean assuaging parental guilt. There should not be any guilt.

When this country gets better day care and society makes it easier for career women to get to the top of their company and raise kids too, we won't hear as much about quality or "designed" time.

Time magazine Sept. 3 carried a story about how different couples are handling the overload: "With two families and two egos, family life gets harder all the time," somebody said.

I really don't like that "two egos" business, either.

I like to think that when you love someone your ego should not be bruised if your spouse gets more pay or more prominence.

Time says career collisions promise to become more common and more acute.

The article points out: "Increasingly, couples speak of 'quality-of-life' issues, as they weigh the demands of work against the desire for more family and leisure time. Worship at the career alter is becoming passe."

So let's give "quality time" a rest, let's just convert it into unprogrammed space with your family.

If sometimes the kids want to just play with pebbles or boxes ithe back yard, climb trees, or bounce a ball against a wall and use their imagination -- let them just be with you, not on you or at you, not in your face, but in your circumference. It's called being there.

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