The Myth of "Quality Time"

Quality time" is nothing more than a self-serving yuppie rationalization for not being there for your kids.
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Each year, parents resolve to yell at their kids less and spend more so-called "quality time" as a family. The reason why these resolutions don't stick is because when it comes to our life's priorities, we tend to vote with our feet.

I hate the term "Quality Time." I would like to take the person who coined the term behind the barn and flog him.

"Quality time" is nothing more than a self-serving yuppie rationalization for not being there for your kids. The fairy tale of "quality time" is that you can make up for the time you don't have to be a good mom or dad by scheduling short doses of time intentionally focused on your kid. Let me tell you, kids do not like being intentionally focused on. The entire idea is a fallacy.

We live in a culture that is built for production and consumption. Our society is about business. While we give lip service to cherishing our marriages and our kids -- and although we do a far better job at this than our parents or any generation in history -- most of us are living over-committed lives trying to get ahead.

By the time we're done with work and taxes and bills and arranging our kids' activities, there is precious little energy or time left over. Mentally it's very hard to turn down that next work commitment because you promised your kid to play monopoly. You think, "Good grief, that's four hours of 'Passing Go' - I need a 'Get Out of Jail Free Card!'"

Real parenting occurs when you're just hanging out or in the kitchen when you're cooking together. The best conversations are when your kids are in the backseat and you're the chauffeur. There's a world of difference between chatting with your kids and making an appointment for ice cream and asking, "So... how are you doing?" That's not talking to a kid, that's talking to an adult.

One of the reasons we speed over being with our kids is because their pace is so different from the rest of the world. They're slower. You have to put your crack-berry away, and you have to slow down. It's the same sort of transition (and just as difficult) when you go from running around chasing work issues to being sexual with your spouse. You have to get off the hyper-conveyor belt of the adult world, and you have to slow down.

No doubt, it can be a shock to your system. Adult daily life has a lot of action and stimulation. You experience a shutter when you transition into kid-time. You're trying to listen to your kid, but you have 53 other things on your mind, and frankly, kids are kind of boring -- and of course, you feel guilty about that thought!

Give yourself a break, literally and figuratively. Kids, if you let them, will pull you into their slower, more nourishing kid-time. Now that my kids are older, I dedicated one of my books to the sheer joy of burning away an afternoon playing Monopoly with them. I can't think of anything that made me any happier in my whole life.

You have to yield to their world which is simpler, less stimulating and slower and open up to the subtle richness of it. The reward is that when you enter into that relationship with your kids it's so much fun and so nourishing for you. It is such sweetness, and when you get to be your mid-50s like me, you'll just wish you had more of it.

Look, it's perfectly O.K. to schedule time to be with your kids. There's nothing wrong with saying I'm going to coach my kid's baseball team or Thursday night is dad's night to take the kids to the movies, but this should never take the place of just hanging out. Put your work aside and cut your list of 53 errands down to only the essentials.

In today's structured world, just hanging out is gold. Ask children what they want, and they will tell you they want to just hang out with their parents. No agenda, no purpose, just chillin'.

Terry Real is New York Times bestselling author and a 30-year licensed practicing psychotherapist specializing in marriage and family therapy who has done ground-breaking work on male depression. He is the founder of the Relational Life Institute. Learn more about him at or visit his Real Advice Blog.