Creative Child

Quality Time May Trump Quantity Time, but Quantity Time Begets Quality Time

by Deborah Song

As a working mom, I took great solace in a recent study that showed the amount of time parents spend with their kids between the ages of 3 to 11 has virtually no effect on how they turn out, behaviorally, emotionally and academically. It was quality time that mattered, not quantity time, even though how much quality time needed was not stated. Moreover, increased exposure to an overwhelmed and anxious parent seemed to make matters worse. Finally, the study showed that what did seem to make a difference in a child’s future was a mother’s education and parents’ socioeconomic level.

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I don’t doubt these findings. But I’m also dubious that it paints the full picture. I’ll never forget the day when my child brought home a drawing from school. When asked what she liked most about mom, she said she liked that I was always next to her and drew a picture of us in close proximity.

I wasn’t always next to her though. She attended preschool since she was 2 years old. And when I had work to do at home, I never did it with her in the same room. But I did try to sit next to her while doing laundry or filing papers. I tried to sit next to her as often as I could even if I couldn’t give her my full attention. When I asked my then second grader to tell me why she liked that I was “always next to her”, she told me she could share things with me faster when I was.

When it comes to spending time with our kids, quality may trump quantity. Only thing is, increased quantity time often leads to enhanced quality time. Sure, you can schedule one-on-one time to sit across your child at Baskin Robbins, making laser-focused eye contact while your phone remains turned off for the next 30 minutes. But your child may or may not feel like divulging what’s truly on her mind exactly between 6:30pm to 7:00pm.

Timing when your child will need you most is as difficult as timing the stock market. Every good investor knows you need to spread your net wide over a long period of time and ride out those down periods in order to catch those ups. Parenting is similar this way: you can’t time when your child will be vulnerable or feel triumphant. Simple statistics dictates that the more quantity time you make, the more opportunities you’ll have for quality time. For one, quantity time builds trust because building any relationship takes time. And quantity time has a special way of telling your child she’s valued because time is the most valuable asset we have.

Creating more time to spend with your child, though, is no easy feat for the busy modern parent. Not to mention that more quantity time with a parent stretched so thin could be more harmful than beneficial. Notwithstanding the need for balance, the idea that quantity and quality time are mutually exclusive seems short-sighted. 

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