The Difference Between Quantity and Quality

I recently read an article on The 5 Secrets to Raising a Good Kid, by Harvard psychologists. The number 1 rule was spending quality time with your children. Simon Segal wrote: “It’s not enough just to be physically around your kids; you need to be with them completely.”

Parenting trends have shifted over the last few years. Having three small children of my own, I’m in the thick of it. Fathers and mothers are more involved in their children’s lives than ever before. Traditional work models have been replaced with more flexible schedules. Soccer practices that begin at 4:30pm on a Wednesday are flooded with parents cheering on the sidelines. Home schooling is on the rise. This generation has sparked buzzwords such as “hyper parenting,” “helicopter parenting,” and “lawnmower parenting.”

As well-meaning as we parents may be, we are not exempt from criticism. Thousands of articles flood the Internet labeling our generation’s children as “entitled.” Parents are encouraged to back off and let their kids figure things out on their own. Nonetheless, parents feel more pressure than ever to make their kids’ childhoods magical—and that means being there all the time.

Meanwhile, women are reaching heights of success they never could have dreamed of before. Women are no longer expected to be housewives and child-rearers. They are out in the world, becoming thought leaders, CEOs, and even attempting to become President of the United States. And yet, even “big wig” women are building nurseries in their corporate offices.

It is no surprise that parents feel guilty when they are away from their children because they have to work. And they feel guilty when they’re with their children because they are not working. As if we were not under enough pressure, the psychologists at Harvard remind us that being with our kids all the time isn’t enough, we have to be with them completely. We have to be engaged and fully present, and we have to be that way all the time.

A friend of mine was feeling depressed the other day and we had a long chat. She has no time for herself. Sometimes, she imagines life must be easier for parents who are divorced because co-parents get a couple of days to themselves.

It is hard to be everything for everyone all the time.

This got me thinking about my childhood. My parents were divorced and my father traveled 80% of the time. I spent the bulk of my time with my mother but she also worked full-time. My mom was never the room mom at my school, and I always stayed in aftercare. But I was a happy, well-adjusted kid. I had a healthy relationship with both of my parents.

My parents were not physically with me all the time, but they were with me completely. My father called me every day. He asked me questions and listened to what was going on in my life. He reserved important dates for me in his calendar and made sure to be there on those dates. Whenever he could be with me, he was. My mom picked me up late but made sure to lie with me at night and spend time with me. She was there when I needed help with my homework. She was all love. Both of my parents told me they loved me every day. They were fully immersed in my world, even though they were not always with me.

There was something else my parents did: They made me as much a part of their lives as they were a part of mine. They talked to me about their goals, their work, and their struggles. When my father was traveling, he sent me postcards showing me everywhere he went. He shared stories about his work and his purpose.

As important it is for our children to know we love them, it is important for them to know who we are and what our passions are. They need to understand that when we go to work, we are being productive members of society and our work matters. Other people depend on us, too. Stay-at-home moms and dads also need time to do the things they want or need to do. We are all part of a community that is larger than us and children who learn this will know that they, too, are contributors to society.

Many of us are afraid to separate from our kids. But it is more frightening to fall into depression because we feel we have to be with them all the time. When our children understand who we are and what we do, they become a part of our success … even when it means they have to give up some time with us. Instead of feeling guilty, look at your time apart as a gift you are giving them.

You are teaching children that life is a mixture of family and work, forces that are messy and imperfect and completely intertwined. What matters most is that your kids know that no matter where you are in the world, you will pick up the phone when they call. No matter what you are doing, if your child needs to talk, you will be there to listen. If something is important to them, it is important to you. If your child knows you will move mountains to be with them, if your child hears you tell them, “I love you” every day, if your child sees you are there for them whenever they need you, then you are with your child completely, even when you’re away.

If you have that kind of relationship with your child, then you never leave them, no matter where you are.

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