My generation, the Baby Boomers, witnessed some changes that probably couldn't even have been imagined by the "Greatest Generation" that preceded us. For example, the Boomers championed the feminist and civil rights movements, which made our society more tolerant, diverse, and culturally-sensitive than ever before. The Boomers also brought NASA and Woodstock, putting a few Americans on the moon and many others just hallucinating space travel.
We also changed parenting forever, allowing more moms and dads to feel comfortable choosing to work either inside or outside the home. But along with this positive development came an unfortunate compensatory concept that I apologize for on behalf of my entire generation. We introduced the notion of "Quality Time" to help us deal with our guilt about spending less quantity time with our kids. Quality Time was a "scrapbook" family outing to the theater, ballet, or a nice restaurant—short bursts of uber-parenting, memorialized with souvenirs that attested to how much we loved our kids. It was typically both intensive and expensive. And after each carefully planned activity, we patted ourselves on the back and returned to our busy lives.
Don't get me wrong—the theater, ballet, and nice restaurants are fine if you have the time, interest, and money. Or maybe you'd rather go to the park, zoo, botanic garden, or museums. All are excellent ways to enjoy family time with your kids, and worthy of setting aside protected time.
But there's a better and more affordable way to experience high-quality time with your kids that's less structured and will leave you feeling much more fulfilled. You can have it in the kitchen preparing dinner together; in the car on the way to soccer practice or to the ice cream store on the way home from practice; walking your kids to playdates instead of driving; backyard insect hunting with a magnifying glass after dinner; collecting leaves during the day and then tracing them and coloring together before bed; or building a snowman by starlight.
This "New Quality Time" does require is a different mentality than we Boomers had as parents. Rather than thinking of what you have to do with your kids to get all of you through your day's commitments and responsibilities, think of all those logistical hurdles as opportunities to be with your kids. Quality Time is all the time before and after your planned outings. It's the cameo appearances you make with your kids throughout the week that you never acknowledged as true family time because you're so consumed by the choreography of daily family life. If you can make this time with your kids special, seeing it as moments rather than minutes, you'll never have to audit how much time you spend with your kids. Quality Time is whenever you are with your kids, doing whatever it is you are doing together.
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).
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