“The Myth of `Quality Time”‘

By Phil T. Arnold

I was surprisingly pleased to see the cover story of an issue of Newsweek magazine (May 12, 1997) entitled, “The Myth of Quality Time: How We’re Cheating Our Kids, What You Can Do.” Much of what it contains drives home the simple and obvious point  children and the home are a “full-time” job. Laura Shapiro, the author of the main article, writes, “Kids don’t do meetings. You can’t raise them in short, scheduled bursts. They need lots of attention, and experts warn that working parents may be shortchanging them.”

Two-career families and workaholic fathers of the seventies often felt tinges of guilt over the breakup of the nuclear home and sought for salve to soothe the stinging of their conscience. As usual, “experts” theorized a “better (?) way” to justify the abandonment of the home for the business world. The motto became “Quality Time.” The theory being that it doesn’t really matter how much time you spend with your kids, it’s how you spend the time. Arlie

Hochschild, author of The lime Bind, writes, “Instead of nine hours a day with a child, we declare ourselves capable of getting the ‘same result’ with one, more intensely focused, total quality hour.” The real result being a greater number of depressed, rebellious children lacking in the self-esteem “that comes from knowing your parents are really interested in you, really behind you,” says Ronald Levant, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School. Levant goes on to say, “I think quality time is just a way of deluding ourselves into shortchanging our children. Children need vast amounts of parental time and attention. It’s an illusion to think they’re going to be on your timetable, and that you can say ‘OK, we’ve got a half hour, let’s get on with it.’ Whenever time with children is in short supply, calling it “Quality Time” may make parents feel better but the results can still be devastating. Child psychologists are seeing more disturbed children. Teachers are reporting increases in discipline problems and class-room disruptions. “No wonder…” those “who work with children would like to get rid of the whole idea of quality time,” Shapiro writes.

The problem does not solely lie with “working mothers” but is aggravated by fathers caught up in the demands of a business world that may publicly project itself as family friendly, but privately “passes over” and frowns upon any-one who would dare place family above firm. Studies “clearly indicate that children whose fathers are thoroughly involved in their care do better socially and cognitively than kids whose fathers play a more marginal role.” The idea that “children are woman’s work” is another myth that needs to be exploded and is by observing the directives of God’s word (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21). Another misconception is that this time element is really only applicable to the newborn and toddler. While it is extremely important to get off to a good start (Prov. 22:6), kids do not shed their need for pa-rental “time” when they progress into adolescence and enter the teen years. In fact, the demands for parental time may become even more critical as they begin making what may well be “lifetime” choices.

What are some solutions to this problem of “time” and the home? Well, first of all, let us acknowledge that he who created us knows us best and knows what is best for us. Our culture, our career, and the cash do not alter the fact that our Father knows best (Isa. 55:8-9). We will never find a better way for ourselves and our families than the way prescribed by God. In his infinite wisdom, God has designed that women be “keepers of the home” (Tit. 2:5; 1 Tim. 5:14). This is not to say that it sinful for a woman to work outside the home, but it does often challenge her to remember what is to be her primary role  a homemaker. Men are to be the providers for the home. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). The man who is seeking a wife because “two incomes are better than one” or who believes that his wife should “pull her own weight by getting a job” is sadly out of step with the word of God. If you are not yet married, let God’s plan be your plan and make this your goal. If you are married, make conforming to this pattern your priority to have the home as designed by God.

Secondly, we must always realize that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses” (Luke 12:14). I was also pleasingly astounded to see in the Newsweek articles quoted above that one proposed solution was simply to learn to live on less and adopt a more modest lifestyle. One couple even proposed selling their home and stepping down to a less expensive home in order to have more “quantity time” for the family. What a revolutionary idea! Learn to live within your means? How un-American! I realize that each family’s circumstances and choices vary. We would not propose to set ourselves up as either the judge or the standard. Yet, the lesson is obvious. The soul of a child (not to mention your own) is worth more than all the things that a “career” can bring (Matt. 16:26). For those still establishing their “lifestyles” and planning their families, set your goal to live on one in-come. For others, the choices may not be easy. It is always easier to move up in this world than move down. But realize that less will actually mean more  more time with family, more of a relationship that really matters, and more of an influence that can last beyond time. For some, the choices will be few because of the personal circumstance over which no one else should attempt to be judge. Pray to God for his providence that if possible your circumstance might change and for the wisdom that we all need to use whatever time we have wisely (Jas. 1:5; Eph. 3:15-17).

Guardian of Truth XLI: 18 p. 16-17
September 18, 1997