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Disney quality time

When it comes to parenting, it is not just quality of time that matters

Disney quality time
Disney quality time?

The funny thing about research is that it can reveal an outcome which is the exact opposite of findings just a few years before. It’s like a pendulum that jumps from one extreme to the other.

Take for instance a study on the time parents devote to their children. Previously it was said that the quality of time spent with one’s child affects their well-being more than the quantity of time. This is the justification held by working mothers for years now, and why not? Their time away from their children has been excused provided they make it up to them with an hour or two of storytelling or structured play as soon as they get home.

Their guilt over not spending enough time with their children has been replaced by confidence in their parenting style. Up till now, the sacrifice they are making to add to their family finances would have been considered a commendable thing.

But now some recent studies have contradicted this long-held truism of ‘quality time’ and the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, saying  that it is the quantity of time parents give their children which is most valuable to their well-being. Apparently children needs a lot of time with their mother and this time need not always be a quality time. In their early years, children seek out the presence of their mother most of their waking time. They want to hear her voice, see her, touch her and even smell her.

What do these finding mean to mothers? Should mothers sit next to their children all the time and give them undivided attention? Not necessarily. Research indicates that children feel more secure if they know that their mother is somewhere accessible when-ever they need her, which means the mother does not have to be tied to her child all the time.

The mother could be reading in the same room while the child plays or she could be in another room doing other things. The important thing is that she is there when the child calls out to her. A mother who is around when the child needs her gives the child security and confidence in knowing that there is someone in the big wide world who will always be there for them. This sense of security is something that an absent mother may not be able to give.

The findings of this research ring true to my own experience.

I grew up in a household with a father who worked full-time and a mother who stayed at home. My mother, although at home all the time, was only rarely an active participant in her children’s activities. So the time she devoted to us cannot qualify as quality time in the accepted definition of that word.

It was more like a quantity time of benign passivity. My sisters and I would play by ourselves while my mother went about her other occupations in the house. When my sisters started going to school and I was left at home, my mother left me to my own devices. Because I knew I wasn’t the centre of the universe,  I learned how to preoccupy myself by reading, playing with other children or even watching TV by myself. My mother, meanwhile, was somewhere at home busy with other things.

One time while watching TV,  I saw an occasion where a child became lost in the TV studio  audience. The child was separated from her mother in he bustle of the mass studio audience of a midday show.

The compere announced this incident to everyone, viewersas well as studio audience. “Are you the mother of this child?” he asked. “ If you are, your child is here safe with us,” he announced on the TV show.  This incident made me rush out of the room to search for my mother. I found her in the garden. When I saw my mother I cried profusely.

They were tears of relief in knowing that she wasn’t lost or maybe that I wasn’t lost. It was not often that I ran to my mother in tears but in this particular case, I did. I was full of anxiety from watching the event in that TV show and this anxiety was only alleviated when my mother hugged and reassured me.

Situations like the above, I believe, are when a child needs  to have their mother by their side. These moments do not happen only at a specified time. A mother simply cannot structure her child’s life so that they will only need her when she comes home from work.

Critical moments for a child may happen with no planning so if a parent has arranged a parenting time to a schedule, they may miss these crucial moments. This, I believe, is where quantity time proves invaluable.

Let me make it clear that I don’t think that quality time is bad parenting at all, but this quality time should be stretched throughout much of the day and not just limited to one or two hours. A child’s life does not stop while  a mother is out working.

Their needs aren’t adapted to coincide with their parents’ schedule. No one can predict when they will need a mother’s hug or a mother’s consoling voice. My mother did not give her children quality time, by any parenting book’s standards, in fact she neglected us benignly most of the time.

Benign because while she attended to her household chores, we learned something invaluable – independence. She did not actively engage us while we were playing but she never left us alone either. There was no counting the number of times when, if we had needed her, she would have been there for us. There was no structuring of her time.

Her time wasn’t devoted to her children exclusively but she was always there for them throughout the day and throughout the night. For us her children, this was the better deal. Quantity time beats quality time, hands down.