“I’m really looking forward to spending some quality time with Dad this weekend,” said 6-year-old Bill to his same-age friend, Joe. “Yeah, me too!” exclaimed Joe. “Even though I haven’t really talked to my dad in a month, some good quality time this coming Sunday will fix everything. It will be like we’ve been together every day.”
Whoa! What planet is this conversation taking place upon? Are these kids human? Everyone knows this isn’t reality. Young children don’t talk about spending “quality time” with their parents. For them, all time spent with their parents is important, and they don’t generally rate how good (or bad) their time with their parent or parents was. As children mature, however, they do understand whether the time spent with their parents was enjoyable or not.
Consider the case of 16-year-old Susan. She hasn’t had a meaningful conversation with her parents for months, but her folks promised they’d spend some quality time with her on the weekend by going to a movie or something.
“Oh no,” thought Susan. “Just what I need: an embarrassing trip to the movies with my folks followed by an inquisition about my friends. What a nightmare!”
From her parents’ perspective, the outing may have been a nightmare for them, as well. Unfortunately, this hypothetical example is reality for many young people and their parents.
Today, the concept of spending “quality time” with children has permeated discussions about parenting. For busy parents who are juggling demanding careers and heavy workloads with raising children, “quality time” has become an important concept.
It’s easy to understand why. Studies now indicate that the typical amount of time a working parent spends with his or her young children is about 30 minutes per day.
And this amount of time diminishes as children mature. A typical father will spend less than three minutes per day alone with a child who has reached his or her teenage years (Robert Evans, Family Matters: How Schools Can Cope With the Crisis in Childrearing, 2004, p. 78).
Of course, these stats show the total amount of time spent with children and don’t measure how effective those minutes are. No wonder parents want to make the small amounts of time they spend with their children as good as possible. They want this time to be quality time. So what can you do to make your time with your children or grandchildren as effective as possible?
Defining “Quality Time”
Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo, in their Let the Children Come Along the Virtuous Way parenting program, define quality time as “an activity that promotes communicating and sharing” ( Leader’s Guide, p. 79).
According to this definition, many activities such as going to a movie or playing games are not really quality time. In fact, the Ezzos “challenge the contemporary notion of quality time and quantity time with the view that time is not the best measurement, but the caliber of relationship is. This can be gauged by how often children turn to Dad for advice and counseling” ( Leader’s Guide, p. 91).
The goal in spending time with children is to promote and facilitate a deep, heart-to-heart relationship. These kinds of relationships are characterized by a child revealing his or her innermost thoughts, ambitions and even worries.
When this occurs, it is like being allowed into a special, private place that is located behind closed doors. Being invited in requires trust. And adults have to be sensitive to and respectful of a child’s vulnerability when they are invited in or they won’t be allowed to return.
It’s at this intimate level of heart-to-heart communication that a parent can be most influential in teaching both physical and spiritual concepts. Before offering advice, a wise parent will have abundantly paved the way to this position through love and concern for the child. It’s much easier for children to hear a parent when they know the parent loves them, treats them with respect and goes out of his or her way to do things for them.
Sometimes parents have to prime the pump for meaningful conversation with their children by first spending time with their children doing things they like to do. As a result of this personal interest, children often then open up and share what they are thinking. Good discussions can’t always just be ordered up. They must be natural, and they come about because a good relationship already exists.
Some parents have found that they can have good heart-to-heart communication with their younger children when they put them in bed for the night. At this time it is easier to have a quiet, reflective conversation about the good things they did that day and about how God is pleased and we are blessed when we obey Him.
Teenagers can also be reflective and desirous of talking about their futures with their parents just before going to bed. While the temptation may be for parents to say, “I’m tired. Let’s talk about this in the morning,” teens may not be as ready for the conversation at a later time. It’s often better for parents to take advantage of the times their teens want to talk, if they can do so.
Quantity Is Important Too
It’s also important to understand that the quantity of time spent with children is not irrelevant. One good experience with a child is easily cancelled by weeks and months of neglect. Perhaps it is best said that quality and quantity of time spent with children are both important.
In principle, we all understand that our time is our life. When we give some of our time to our children, we are telling them that they are important to us—that we value them highly.
While parents might think they are showing their child love by working an extra job so they can provide their child more physical possessions and opportunities, a child doesn’t understand this. He or she may feel neglected and unloved. Our time truly is one of the most valuable gifts we can give.
To have more influence on our children, we need to look for ways to spend more time with them. Consider eating dinner together every evening and discussing the day’s activities. Preparing the meal and cleaning up afterwards also provide opportunities for conversation.
If you are going to watch television or a movie, do it together so you can verbally challenge and discuss ungodly thinking or actions. The discussions you have with a child can teach him or her critical thinking skills. He or she can learn firsthand that we don’t just accept any and all values that we see or hear. Instead, each must be weighed in light of God’s Word.
Riding in an automobile can also be a time for meaningful conversation. While today’s trend is for young people to have their own music and for younger children to be entertained by a movie while riding in a vehicle, time spent in traveling can be reclaimed. Why not use this time to talk about life, learn about your child’s interests or help plan his or her future?
You’re in, Now What?
Before closing, let’s assume you’ve established a good relationship with your child—you’ve been invited into his or her private world. You are truly experiencing the best “quality time” possible with your child as he or she opens up with his or her innermost thoughts and feelings.
Now what are you going to say? How can you make sure you’ll be invited to return to this level of communication? Here are a few points to consider:
• Offer praise. Praise the young person for his or her willingness to discuss things on this level. This type of communication is special. Let your child know you enjoy and appreciate being able to talk about things with him or her on this level.
• Reaffirm your love. If you hope to influence your children, they will likely be influenced to the degree that they know they are loved.
• Suggest a course of action based on God’s Word. Be a salesperson for a godly course of action. God told the ancient Israelites to tell their children how following Him had benefited them. In short, we should explain that doing things God’s way is “for our good always” (Deuteronomy 6:20-25 Deuteronomy 6:20-25 20 And when your son asks you in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD our God has commanded you?
21 Then you shall say to your son, We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand:
22 And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and sore, on Egypt, on Pharaoh, and on all his household, before our eyes:
23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in, to give us the land which he swore to our fathers.
24 And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day.
25 And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.
American King James Version×) and that it will be for our children’s good as well if they likewise choose God’s way.
• Let your child take ownership. Encourage, but don’t force, your child to choose God’s way. This is especially important as a child grows older. It shows respect for the child’s right and responsibility to make his or her own decisions.
• Let your child know you’d like to discuss this again. Sometimes children can get the idea that there can be no further discussion. If a child is leaning toward an unwise decision, you might ask a child to think about some questions or to do further research on a possible course of action. Suggest that you continue the conversation when you’ve both had more time to gather information and think about the possible courses of action.
• Express confidence in your child’s ability to make good decisions. Children often live up to our expectations of them. Express confidence in them, showing that you believe as they mature they will follow God, stay in the Church, be baptized, marry someone within the faith and eventually raise children who also make godly choices. Tell them this is what you foresee them doing because you know they will be happier if they make these choices.
Quality time spent with our children is one of the great joys of life. Use these tips to have more of it and to influence your offspring to follow God’s way of life. UN