Excerpt from If I Had a Parenting Do-Over by Jonathan McKee
I can hear it now. “But Jonathan, I can’t just drop everything! I work. I have a life.” Or the inevitable. . .“I don’t have time.”
Some of us let our jobs get in the way. We work long hours, and when we’re home, we might be physically present, but we’re still technically at work on our phone and our laptop. I’ve heard parents share this struggle for years. “Gotta earn that extra paycheck to pay for football camp and gymnastics.”
Guess what your kids need more than football camp and gymnastics?
They need you!
Consider this. I have never—and I mean ever—met an empty nester who told me, “I spent more than enough time with my kids!”
In fact, the typical 20/20 look-back is: “I wish I would have spent a little more time with Michael.” “I could have paid more attention to Taylor.” Say yes to any opportunity to connect with your kid.
Does this mean we need to drop everything every time our toddler wants us to play Legos? No. If we said yes to toddlers every time, we’d never get anything done. But by the time your kids are tweens or teens, I’d go out on a limb and say if they want to hang out with you, “Say yes every time.” I could even say it another way: “Say yes a minimum of once a day to any opportunity to hang out with your kid.” The fact is, 99 percent of teenagers won’t ask to hang out more than once a week, much less once a day. So if they do, slide everything aside to make hangout time happen.
I probably didn’t realize this until my oldest was already out of the house and I was watching time slip away with my two high school daughters. It was then that I made a pledge to myself: “I don’t care how big the pile is on my desk—I’m saying yes to any opportunity to hang out.”
These opportunities came in bizarre forms. They weren’t always fun and they weren’t always things I wanted to
do. Sometimes it was my daughter Alyssa coming in and sighing, “Dad, want to go to the DMV with me? I have to renew my license.”
“Woo-hoo! The DMV!” (Does the movie Zootopia come to mind?) She wasn’t even that excited to hang out with me; she just didn’t want to go to the stinking DMV by herself. I snagged the opportunity. In fact, I even asked, “Do you wanna grab a Jamba on the way home?” and extended our time together.
You have time. Make time. Even if it turns out to be a drag.That’s the thing about quality time. It takes quantity time.
We can’t choose quality-time moments. They just happen. It takes painfully boring DMV trips, family dinners that sometimes seem like a waste of time and effort, drives to school together, time spent tucking our kid into bed every night—it takes connecting time and time again to achieve those quality-time moments.
If your kids are going through adolescence, then these moments of connection are even more vital. Not just because our interactions with them are fewer and farther between, but because research actually reveals that quantity time pays off with adolescents more than with any other age.
I’m referring to a fascinating new study out of the Journal of Marriage and Family that argues mere quantity time is not enough. Yes, you read that correctly. It doesn’t pay off just to clock in hours hanging out with our kids.
So what can we take away from this new report? I think this report brings to light several realities I’ve witnessed firsthand:
1. Mere proximity doesn’t produce quality time. If we bring our kids to the grocery store with us, ignoring them the entire time, talking on our phones, occasionally barking at them, “Put that down!”. . .we aren’t clocking healthy bonding time. Bonding necessitates dialogue. So if you’re going to drag your kids on errands with you, make it fun. Interact with them. Ask them their favorite meal and have them help you shop for it. Do more listening than talking. Make them feel noticed and heard. (We’ll explore how to do all this later in the book.)
2. Adolescents have different needs than younger kids. Just when our teens—and even tweens—begin pushing us away, they need us the most. No, that doesn’t mean we need to smother them or put them on a leash. It simply means parents need to be especially proactive about looking for opportunities to bond with their teens. Healthy parenting requires healthy investments of both bonding and boundaries. Are you investing in both? Which bank is getting more deposits this month?
3. Don’t use quality time as an excuse to avoid quantity time. If your kids are like mine, you’ll experience just one or two quality-time moments for every dozen times you hang out with your kids. Quality time usually necessitates quantity time. Parents need to clock quantity hours having fun with their kids, talking, laughing. . .listening! You never know when quality-time moments will materialize.
Spending time with our kids creates an interesting dynamic. On one hand, we really need to be proactive about doing it, because our tendency as humans is to get caught up in our own world. On the other hand, spending time with our kids should never be just a check mark in a box. I clocked in three hours today. In fact, our time investment should be without expectation of what that time will look like, not just seeking the “quality” but really showing our kids that they are worthy of our time. Period.
What can you do this week to truly connect with your child?
–excerpt from I Had a Parenting Do-Over by Jonathan McKee. Barbour Publishing, Inc.
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