So this is nothing new in the world of parenting. We all know it’s important to spend ‘quality’ time with our kids (if we have them, and this also includes step children). The difficulty is actually getting that quality time and even, establishing what quality time actually is.
We need to remember that quality time isn’t just about making a big event out of something, it’s also the small things that are really important to kids. Making sure you give them your undivided attention. It’s most definitely NOT showering your kids with gifts. The most important thing you can do is give them your TIME and ATTENTION. Yes I’ve capitalised them, and yes I am shouting those words because they are what your kids, my kids, everyone’s kids need.
Life gets busy, a bit crazy at times and we all know just how exhausting having kids can be! But that craziness can be used to your advantage. Ride the wave of crazy and enjoy some special time with your kids – individually. Don’t make this a family thing, this is about you and your relationship with your kids on their own, individually. There’s plenty of time for the family fun, make this a time just for you and your children. Make it part of your self-care routine, it’s as important for your well-being as it is for theirs. Let me just say here and now, I am not a perfect parent. Far from it, anyone who thinks they are, well they’re living in cloud cuckoo land as far as I’m concerned. We none of us a perfect, we all have our faults, we are only human after all, however, I’d like to think most of us do what we can in the best way we can for our families.
If you’re a grandparent, I know you want to see those grandbabies as much as you can but let their mum and dad have some special quality time with them too. Support them when they need it, be there with kind words and love but take a step back once in a while and let mum and dad have their moment with their kids, let them build a happy relationship where the kids can feel they can talk to you and them about anything.
This is something that takes time, and doesn’t always involve big grand gestures, sometimes it’s the little things that get remembered and it’s those things that build the trust between a parent and child.
What is quality time?
Quality time can mean different things to different people. Is it sitting through a movie and everyone being so enthralled by it no one speaks? Is it making a meal together? Is it cuddling your child/partner/loved one?
To me it means getting off screens, listening to my kids/husband/family and by this I mean really listening to them, paying them attention. It means devoting time and effort to really being in the moment with them, regardless of the activity.
The official Oxford Languages definition is:
- time in which one’s child, partner, or other loved person receives one’s undivided attention, in such a way as to strengthen the relationship.
“the most important thing is to spend quality time talking to their children“
Quality V’s Quantity
To me it’s about quality Vs quantity. We live busy lives and often we want to spend quality time with our children but there’s also a tonne of laundry to be done. Time is finite. We too often try combine our tasks we have to do with our quality time and it just doesn’t work. It means we are only giving our kids half our attention. There’s no easy answer as if we do one task and then spend the time with the kids the time we spend is decreased. So rather than saying I’m going to choose one over the other I think it’s important to think about what the purpose of the quality time serves.
One thing we do need to consider when we are spending quality time is not just what we do or how we do it but focus on the other person’s feelings about quality time. Identifying just what quality time means to them. On one occasion a couple of years ago now, my son said to me “I never get to spend time with you”. What?! This rocked me to my core. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, hang on a minute ‘I listen to him, I play with him, we have chats’ but to him this is just stuff that’s done as part of our daily lives. Not ‘special’ time. I got a little bit put out by his comment if I’m honest. I took offence at his comment at first, because I thought his idea of quality time was the same as mine. I was put out because even when I said let’s do something together, just us two, he would often say not at the moment thanks mum. That moment was lost. When I mentioned this in passing to someone I know who is a ‘child expert’ said I should ignore him when he says not now and just ‘make’ him spend quality time with me. I was horrified at their comment. Why? I don’t believe in ‘making’ a child do anything, encourage – yes, educate them about good/bad/right/wrong – yes, but not by force which is essentially what she was telling me I should do. You may think I am wrong to believe she was incorrect, but that’s your choice, your personal opinion and we are all allowed those. I’m just saying how I feel here and how I parent my kids.
It is obvious that we all have different ideas about quality time, and what it means to us. After the “I never get to spend time with you” moment, I waited until my son and I had some time on our own at bedtime, this is when we often have a little chat to sum up our day, and I asked him what he meant by his comment, I asked him what he saw quality time as.
It was interesting, he told me that felt left out sometimes, he found it difficult to spend time with me as I seemed spend time with his sister (who seems to be attached to me like my shadow most of the time!). He adores his sister and they have a fantastic relationship with each other, fighting with each other one moment and then plotting and scheming together the next, but I didn’t quite realise how much of an impact she had on his life. There’s only just under three years between them but he seems to feel he didn’t have long enough with me before she was born as he was so young. He was frustrated with me as in his eyes I didn’t spend as much time with him as I did before his sister was born, he was having to share my attention and he didn’t want to do this. I think he meant when I went back to work a year after having him but I didn’t go straight back after having her, I had more time off and he felt it was unfair on him. It’s difficult to explain the reasons why to kids, they don’t always understand that we are expected to return to work after maternity leave, they just want to spend their every waking moment with us. Just like they’re our world we are everything to them too.
I’m much more aware of what my son sees as valuable, quality time and how it should be spent. This means we can move forward and learn more about what we need to do as parents and as a family. Something we’ve learnt and experienced over the past couple of years especially.
On the one hand the pandemic certainly changed things and how we acted as a family and we haven’t gone back to the way we did everything before. In some ways the pandemic helped us become closer as a family unit, building better relationships. It was also harder in some ways than others at times, as we were on top of each other, getting in each other’s way and not getting enough space or time away from each other. Having that valuable ‘me time’ was so important.
What kind of things do we do as a family to make sure we have quality time together? And how can we have quality time with the kids on an individual basis?
We make a point of eating our evening meal together, as a family at the dining table. We try to avoid meals on the sofa in from of the telly. The only exception is ‘family fridays’ where we sometimes have carpet picnics and takeaways flopping in front of the telly watching catchphrase or something equally silly! It is really important to me to spend mealtimes together, I grew up having meals with my parents and we almost never had telly food. We sat at the table and chatted about our day, ate our food and enjoyed being a family.
We also have a no electronics at the table policy. This means absolutely no compromise whatsoever; no laptops, phones, tablets or telly at the dining table when we are eating. There are no distractions and we focus on each other, and our food.
And, of course it also starts with spending time together preparing the meal. The kids like to help and it makes them feel proud that they’ve prepared something we all enjoyed eating. Giving kids a sense of ownership and responsibility is vital for a child’s well being. It’s essential for their development and of course confidence.
These are important steps in our family life where we know we will focus on each other and it’s our little bit of quality time as a family, and of course there are lots of other things we do, the list is endless. For example the time spent at bedtime, reading stories, chatting about how we feel, how the day has gone and things. You know, those little moments together. The hugs when dropping the kids off to school, the bear hug you get when you pick them up from school, along with the endless chatter of what they did and who did what. The nudge of an elbow and the wry smile passed between us when we do something that makes us happy. All of these are things that make us feel together.
But there are also the little things we need to do with each of our kids on their own, and this is why I am continuing to make ‘dates’ with my kids. It could be make up and beauty sessions with my daughter, clothes sort outs which inevitably means trying on sessions with her or just going for a hot chocolate and gingerbread man at the coffee shop, it could be letting my son teach me how to play fortnight, or doing some bug hunting with him. It might be going for a drive and getting him to tell me which direction to go. It is anything where we smile, talk and enjoy each other’s company. Away from the stresses of life and everything it brings. Just ‘our’ time together, where we can really connect. It doesn’t have to be a huge fanfare of an event, you don’t have to go ‘out out’. Just being there with them and doing something special to you is more than enough.
By all means go ice skating or have a shopping trip with them, take them to the movies, whatever you want to do. But remember it’s how you connect that’s important here.
I don’t make the choices of what we do on our ‘dates’, we choose them together. We come up with ideas and my kids make the final decision. Our dates are not always scheduled, sometimes the moment just happens. But we do like to get together and put ideas forward, it might just be that for some of the things we want to do we need to pre book something so this is the only time things are really planned. But, that said the kids love to plan our movie nights and they know time is valuable and perhaps we might have something on for a particular time so things can’t be done immediately but we all try to be mindful of each others own schedules when we do things. Trying to go on dates when either of the kids are tired is a recipe for disaster, and we know we just need a chill date rather than full on fun at these times. There is no perfect moment. Every relationship is different, and there is no single perfect way to spend time with each other. You need to do what suits you and your children.
Ultimately we want our children to feel important and we want our time together to be strong in their memories. No matter how busy our lives are we need to put things aside and make time for those special to us. If we want our children to grow healthy and happy minds we need to show them how to be happy and healthy and that means taking the time to talk to our kids one on one and taking care of our well being and theirs.
I’ve told you how I’m going forward, how about you? Are you planning on ‘dates’ with your kids? What kind of dates are you going to have?
Enjoy your time together, treasure it because those babies grow up so fast.
Take care, stay safe.