There is research telling us that it doesn’t matter how much time we spend with our children, the difference is made by how we spend the time we have.
There are studies pointing to the fact that just being in the same area as your children is impactful, even if there is little direct engagement.
So what are we, as parents, supposed to believe? What matters most: quality or quantity? Here’s what all my reading and studying has revealed to me: they’re both right!
Sometimes, because of family that needs us, or illness that slows us, or work obligations or volunteer promises or too much traffic we have only small bits of time here and there to be with our children. When we make the choice to spend those bits and pieces with them – it is beneficial to them and to us.
Sometimes, because of never-ending chores or homework or needs of siblings or spouses we have lots of time around our children, but we are distracted by other commitments. When we choose to be near them even when we can’t be immersed in activity with them – it is valuable to them and to us.
Life is messy. Life is complicated and intricate and hectic. Life is simple and straightforward and peaceful. One day can be vastly different from the next. So, when we have quality time to devote to our children…to our family – we should. When we have a good quantity of time to share – we should. They are not mutually exclusive! When we have only one or the other to give, no matter which it is, we are doing something good.
We need to stop making parents think they’re doing it wrong. Give them the facts: it does make a difference when you read to (or with) your children; family game time can teach math, reading, cooperative skills and emotional coping skills; being intentional with your actions helps build self-esteem and promotes open conversation. Give them the details: children learn by watching you even when you aren’t aware; they learn how to care for each other, how to juggle multiple obligations, how to communicate, how to handle stress. It all matters. It all makes a difference.
When we leave parents to think that only one type of interaction with their children is the ‘right’ way, we undermine their power as a parent. We chip away at their security in the way they parent. We have to show each other that whatever we can do is good. Your life looks different from mine. You parent differently than I do. It doesn’t mean that one is right and one is wrong. When we are doing our best to care for our children, and ourselves, it is right. Sometimes we may need to ask for help, and that’s okay, too!
So, I’m done worrying that when I’m busy scrubbing the bathroom I’m not being a good parent. I’m through thinking that I need to go grocery shopping late at night so I don’t miss out on an hour of time with my son. We do it our way and we’re just fine.
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