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Why “quality time” with our kids may not be as beneficial as we think

PLAYING WITH CHILD
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And if we consider the example of Jesus, we’ll see why.

For years we’ve been proclaiming loud and clear the benefits of “quality time.” Whether it’s giving a relaxing massage to a toddler before they go to sleep, the construction of an impressive Lego village with our middle schooler, or a one-on-one lunch at a favorite restaurant with our teen, these so-called “quality” moments have the best intentions at heart: to spend time with our children, to share special moments of affection and attention. It all seems great, especially when scientific studies such as this one from the Washington Post back the notion that “it is not quantity, but quality that counts.” It’s certainly a familiar maxim repeated over and over again in parenting magazines and championed by many psychologists.

This is reassuring for parents with overloaded schedules, who only have a few minutes a day to spend with their children. As long as these precious minutes are determined to be “quality,” everything is fine — or so we want to believe. After all, the internet is full of tips and tricks to make the most of these quality moments. Yet in grabbing these moments of quality time are we just accepting crumbs from the table? Parents are invited to “optimize” the time spent with their children, just as we optimize the profitability of a factory: Don’t hesitate, ladies and gentlemen, this small investment of nothing will bring you big returns!

But what are we promised by spending this quality time together? That it will promote trust , communication and relationship. But this cannot be decreed with a simple wave of a magic wand. According to Renaud Hétier, professor in Educational Sciences at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest in Angers, France, “It is in informal moments that something happens. It is not by summoning the child that we will succeed in establishing dialogue. It often starts when you don’t expect it, in the car, when you fold the laundry or when you prepare dinner.”

The key to building a true quality relationship would therefore lie in the presence and availability that you offer your child, while listening to them. And not simply during a well-defined time slot. Inès de Franclieu, mother of nine and founder of a French charity specializing in emotional education, echoed this view at the Women’s Challenge conference. “Conversation cannot be preordained. It springs up and needs to be grabbed on the fly, around a shared slice of bread on the way home from school or a spontaneous bowl of soup, when you get out of the bath after an activity, when you go to bed. Quite often when you least expect it.”

“Let the children come to me”

So-called “quality” time involves a deliberate move from the parent towards his or her child, a move decreed by the adult, well-supervised and planned in advance. Yet, doesn’t the quality of the exchange emerge instead when the roles are reversed, when it is the child who, spontaneously and unexpectedly, goes to his or her father or mother? Quality time would therefore not be so much in these timed appointments initiated by the adult, but in these impulses, so much more tender and unpredictable, from child to adult. It is in these moments that he will speak, confide, question. Let us dare to draw a parallel with the Gospels: “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them” Jesus tells us (Mark 10:14). He did not impose himself on them in any preaching at their level or by offering them a ball game. So let them come to us, too!

“Quality time is rather the result ‘of a presence that expects nothing'”

There’s a lot of pressure for quality time to be successful. Yet because children aren’t always up for quality time, it can all turn sour very quickly. At that point, the adult is left disappointed. Because they expected something from their child: affection, recognition. But to get nothing … they may even say their child is ungrateful.

Quality time has the advantage of giving parents a clear conscience, but let’s stop ignoring the value of a parent’s simple, attentive and benevolent presence, listening to their child’s needs, anxieties and desires. “This presence makes the child feel secure,” says Inès de Franclieu, “who then feels loved and confident. Love cannot be decreed or reasoned. It can’t explain itself. But it is experienced, felt and lived.”

Read more: What parenting is like in the age of Google

Read more: Common parenting ‘mistakes’ that are actually brilliant child-rearing techniques

 

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