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Quality Time vs. Quantity Time

Posted by Jen on July 29, 2009 at 9:28 AM in Jen
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at the beach-1

After an intense summer of traveling on Picture HOPE, I've had to trade in my badge as stay-at-home (or even work-at-home) mother and admit I have a full blown full time job. This means all the creature comforts of being home with kids--eating cereal together, going on bike rides, watching movies--are giving way to more focused, planned times of connection. I'm making dates with Carter, setting up set times to do certain things with Madeleine and negotiating big time with the calendar about when we can be together and how we can connect.

This leads to a certain kind of insanity that I didn't anticipate before I took on this new work. For example, who gets off a plane and then jumps in the car with her kids to drive four hours to the beach for 36 hours? The new advocate of quality time or this newly minted working mother, that's who.

This is a big shift, let me tell you, not only for my kids, but for me as well. I chose staying at home because my husband agreed it was the best thing for us and because I believed quantity always trumps quality. Now? I'm singing a different tune, but mostly because I have to. How else to explain to myself that this is temporary, that even with these big changes, everything is going to be okay?

Where do you fall on the quality vs. quantity continuum? I'd like to know I'm not the only mama having to redefine her philosophy and her parenting strategy this late in the game.


Amber writes...

I think the quantity vs. quality balance changes as kids get older. My two are still pretty young, they're almost 1 and 4.5. For the baby, quantity wins pretty much every time. He has some real and pressing needs, he's still nursing, and he doesn't understand where I'm going.

But at 4.5 my daughter likes going away for sleepovers at her grandparent's or going to preschool. She's also more likely to appreciate an hour spent doing something 'quality' like visiting a petting zoo. As she gets older it's swinging more towards quality.

That's how I keep my sanity, anyway. :)

Alethea writes...

I agree heartily with Amber. I believe that before the age of 3 1/2 or 4, quantity is not only preferrable, but simply necessitated by the needs of the children and the mother. It's simply harder to be away from them, on everyone, and often more expensive for care. But, I believe (and am noticing with my 3 1/2-year-old daughter) that a very natural shift happens on its own as the children become more interested and capable of venturing out. It's simple really: paying attention to what works and flows well.
Our small family made a choice to simplify our lives drastically so that we could financially make this happen. The children's father and I made compromises that we felt were important to place the attention to our young children at the top of our value list. This takes a lot of self-reflection, active choices and willingness.
Overall - I think, just as with the natural world, a healthy and easy pattern will emerge for every family, if noticed. Paying loving attention to each human involved and responding accordingly - rather than being an inattentive drone for capitalism or fear - is what seems to create greater well-being for many involved. Listen to your intuition.

Michael Dings writes...

Quality verses Quantity is a hard question. My wife an I decided, before our daughter was born (now two and a half), that she would stay at home and I would work. As I’m gone from the house for 12 hours a day my only option is quality time. I wish I could spend more time at home because I think it would benefit everyone and I like being home.

Lisa writes...

For our family, quality wins. My three and a half year old spent about a year with a stay at home, another year with stay at home dad, a few months of passing back and forth (that was the toughest) and then finally "caved" and put him in day care. We're much happier as a family. As a SAHM, I resented my son for the work that I wasn't doing. My husband fared better as a SAHD, but then I had to work all day only to come home to do all the work there. Trying to split our shifts nearly killed us- it just took too much work and planning. In our current situation, there may not be the quantity of time we've had in the past, but we (especially me) have the energy, both physical and emotional, to enjoy our time together and really plan some fun times. I admire SAHP's, and wish I could have done it for longer, but it's just not my personality. I'm happier focusing on myself/my career. Maybe it's selfish, but like MIL always said- if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!

Erin writes...

Let's face it, as parents, quality time isn't something that we can plan. It just happens. It is that time when, in the moment, you are truely connected with your children and they are with you. Quantity time is something that you can plan. You can schedule a full day of activities that work best with your family's schedule. But here is the rub, they are both necessary for a parent to raise a child into a adult. Quality time increases the bond that you have with your child by allowing you to praise your child for their achievements. Quantity time allows you to witness the effort that your child has put into their achivements. So go ahead and plan that 4 day trip to the beach that involves the long plane and car rides. There will be meltdowns, there will be time-outs, and there will be hunger stikes. But there will also be giggles, and watermelon smiles, and first times for. You will be there for both.

Lara writes...

This article completely describes where I'm at right now. I'm recently back at work full time after staying at home for many years. I have two teenagers and a 3 year old and a husband who also needs my time. I'm still often in "housewife mode", in which I'm trying to accomplish all the same home chores I did when a stay-at-home mom, but coming to realize that I often have to choose between doing the dishes and spending time with the kids or my husband. It seems like a no-brainer, but it's difficult to see my "old" job being done (or not done) by other family members and NOT step in to pick up any slack. Working 40+ hours a week has meant that I absolutely have to delegate tasks that used to be my domain and we've had to re-work housework expectations....So the issue of quantity vs. quality has to, out of necessity, be settle by Quality. What I have found, though, after examining my own childhood, is that quality time doesn't necessarily have to be an outing, or even something one would necessarily think of as "fun". My parents didn't make appointments to do fun things with me as a child--those events happened randomly. Yet I didn't grow up feeling starved for time with them,and I feel like we connected fairly well despite both parents working. What was the answer? My parents also made a point of connecting with us when we were doing things that HAD to be done. When cooking dinner, Dad told stories about his childhood, grandparents, etc. When doing dishes, we sang or joked around. When cleaning house, we got to pick fun music to play, and were silly (yes, my parents, too). Most of the stuff we HAD to do got turned into fun or learning experiences (usually both). So now I'm learning to include my little one in easy household chores so she can "help"; she LOVES it and we can be spending quality time together AND I can feel like I'm getting something knocked off the big To-Do list. As for the older kids, they are having to do more for themselves. When they complain about not doing anything together, I remind them that helping out clears time to just go have fun or shop or whatever they want to do with me. And all of it leaves more time with my husband,which is the most important relationship in the family.

heidi writes...

I empathize with you - I am one of three sisters myself plus am a single mother of three teenagers. Until my kids were in grade school, I was at home with them, but as an artist could still work if I could fit it in. The kids had the highest priority and now that they all have their own lives and don't need me as much, I feel free to do more of the activities/work that I had shelved. Now I feel fulfilled in other ways but am very busy so when I am home, my kids & I generally hang out together, mostly just enjoying each other's company. We appreciate & like to be with each other more because of the time we spend apart. It's important that they know how much I love them and enjoy them as people by choosing to making them the priority when I'm not working. I love my work but I love my kids more. (mom, artist, realtor, filmmaker)

Leslie writes...

I was a stay-at-home mom until our son went to college last year. Quantity with quality would definitely describe the time I spent with my children during the years leading up to school. After that, the pendulum swung slightly more towards quantity, with chaperoning field trips and volunteering in the classroom and with the PTSA. After they grew older and were in their teens, quality was more important, because they had their own social life and time spent with me was more limited. A lot of people don't think about the financial sacrifice parents make when one "stays at home," especially now in this economy, but the fact that my kids knew I was always available for them gave them a security and confidence I wouldn't trade for the world. I think in the end, however, as long as your family knows how much you love them, the time you spend with them doing anything counts. Hang in there, Jen!

Kathy writes...

Quantity for the itty bitty wee-est of them, for sure, for as long as you can swing it. But as they get bigger, I'm finding that "balancing" quantity & quality keeps us all happy - but at the same time, quantity is nothing without quality. Does that make sense? ;)

Laura writes...

With a 10 and 17 year old - and a full time job which I love - it is defintely quality over quantity. I believe it's more important for me at this time in all our lives to be fully present with my kids when I am with them. To look them in the eye when we're having conversations, to not be busy doing other things when they are telling me about their day or something important to them. And especially with my 17 year old - time is so short since we've moved way down on his priority list. So I make sure we enjoy an occassional dinner out for some quality conversation and at least twice a week I stay up late to enjoy a quiet chat w/him when he comes home to make sure that life is okay for him.

Jonel writes...

Hats off to all of you parents! It's not easy, but we do our best. Thank you for sharing your stories and ideas.

Laughing Lion writes...

Well, I understand...but like the first post said, at different ages, needs change. Try doing both :)

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