When we think of spending quality time with our kids, we usually imagine doing things we don’t do on a normal day, such as taking them to the zoo or having a family movie night at home. We might picture ourselves taking photos and making memories of fun times together. We usually associate quality time with specialness – but treats and memory-making are not the essence of what quality time is.
For me, there’s only one criteria for “quality time”. And it’s this –
our full attention.
I’m sure you’ve seen for yourself how much your children bask in your attention. This type of quality time is special because it shows our children that they’re special to us. I can think of nothing else that lifts their feelings about themselves and secures their connection to us as much as giving them our undivided attention.
By this definition, quality time can be shared over a weeknight spaghetti bolognese or as we help our child learn their spelling words. The reality is that we don’t always have long stretches of time available for family games of Monopoly. But short and frequent injections of our attention as we go about the ordinary activities of our day are also a great way to get in some quality time with our kids during a busy week.
And quality time can be very budget-friendly. Infact, no money is necessary at all.
When we think of quality time in this way (in which the only criteria is our full attention) we free ourselves to spontaneously spend quality time with our kids as we can without having to organise, schedule or budget for anything. It suddenly feels much easier to fit in.
By this definition, the greatest threat to quality time with our kids is not our limited time or money but our distractions – our phones, obviously, but other things too. For me, these are the pull of my to-do list and, especially when my boys were young, boredom (I could only play firefighters so many times in a day before losing focus). But we can look for ways to reduce these distractions. I started leaving my phone in another room, compartmentalising my time and suggesting activities my son and I would both find engaging in order to conquer my particular attention challenges.
Quality time is not about what we do, it’s about how we show up. Trips to the zoo or out for desert can be quality time – if we’re present. If we’re checking our phones at the lion enclosure or not engaging our children in conversation as we scrape out our ice-cream bowls, they’re not. Quality time is the gift of our attention. Yes, the more quality time, the better and our children will revel in long stretches of it but my message here is not to discount the many opportunities we have to connect with our children over an ordinary day.
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