Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Myth of "Quality Time"

Tell me nothing like this has ever happened to you...You have a couple of hours on a Sunday (Father's Day Sunday), and you're determined to have a nice family time. You pack a picnic and get the kids all kitted out. You get the picnic blanket, pack up the car, and set out. So and so needs to go pee 30 seconds down the road so you come back, take care of business, and set out again. Kid 2 and Kid 3 declare World War III in the back, and Kid 1, who didn't want to miss soccer for this occasion, has decided today is NOT his day and is making sure everyone knows this by declaring his general distaste for picnics, little sisters, sandwiches, his 'stupid booster seat', little chicks, babies and everything else in between in that perfectly grating tone. On the way, you stop at three grocery stores before you find one that has ice, all the while enjoying the growing cacophony in the back of your vehicle. You arrive at the picnic destination and discover the juice, which has spilled in the cooler, has been sopped up by the sandwiches, but you lay out the blanket anyway, determined to press on...And just as you're threatening that if Kid 1 doesn't CUT OUT HIS WHINING or he will have to sit in the van, you notice Kid 3 green-faced and puking on the slide... ABORT PLAN... Stuff Grumpy, Puky, and Screamy in the van along with soggy sandwiches and return home. HAPPY blinking FATHER'S DAY!

The next day, you wake up exhausted and decide you're too lazy to do anything. You put on the tv, clean out the cooler, and go out to do some yard work. The kids migrate out in their jammies, and, by some act of God, decide that today is the day they will get along. And then all the stars align, and the two hours that follow unfold like one of those dream sequences from the Wonder Years. A jolly game of backyard dodgeball erupts minus the over-zealous (but NOT-ON-PURPOSE, MOM!) balls to the face. This evolves into a game of tag which somehow comes to include water, and the end result is a family water fight culminating in the full five of you rolling in hysterics on the grass before chowing down on ice cream sandwiches and telling knock-knock jokes while soaking up the sun in lawn chairs. And the whole thing reminds you why you did this whole family thing in the first place... MAGIC!

In this day and age of busy-ness where everyone, including the dog, is scheduled to the nines, pulled in 100 different directions and consequently too exhausted to do much else, I hear a lot of talk of 'quality time,' and it goes without saying that some choices are better than others in terms of making the best of one's time. For example, one might choose to go for a family bike ride over, say, watching the Simpson's, but there are no guarantees as to how that bike ride will unfold, and I can definitely attest that there has even been some 'quality' Simpson's times in my past, which leads me to this... It has always been my thought that 'quality' is something you simply cannot force. And do you want to know why you can't force 'quality?' It is because, as I've attempted to illustrate in the previous anecdotes--Quality time is magic. There's no two ways about, and magic doesn't always happen when you want it to or when you plan for it to, it just happens. However, like all sensible things, magic does respond simple mathematical rules, and as I will attempt to prove forthwith, the more powerful factor we need to be focusing on is, in fact, QUANTITY TIME. So if you're willing to bear with some seriously loony-toons logic, here goes...

The (mathematical) Laws of Magic

1. The occurrence of magic/quality time is random. It happens in its own time and space, and cannot be squeezed involuntarily into places of your choosing – Just as you can't squeeze 4 halves into a whole, magic or 'quality time' cannot be squeezed into say, a two hour window on Sundays. I was once out for supper with friends, and at the table next to us sat a father and teenage son. To me, the whole situation reeked of an every-second-weekend custody arrangement, and, as a bystander/spying diner, this social event was as cringe-worthy as watching Keanu Reeves in “A Walk in the Clouds”. The Dad was trying in vain to converse with the boy who awkwardly looked sideways, mumbled one word answers, and incessantly checked his phone. I secretly prayed that they would have the impetus to forgo dessert and put themselves out of their misery, but NO, and by this time it was total silence as they scarfed down their brownies. Painful. But I really did feel very badly for both of them. What I saw was a guy making an effort to do something nice with his son specifically involving conversation, and, in this instance, the attempt at quality time appeared to be failing miserably. But, it was what it was, and 'magic' simply did not surface at this juncture. There has actually been a number of studies done on this particular topic in fact showing a strong negative correlation between father-son outings to BP's and the appearance of 'magic'/quality time, but the reason for this remains unclear... BUT, MAKE NO MISTAKE...

2. Magic WILL happen – Just as two non parallel lines, both in the same plane, are destined to intersect, so is it inevitable that magic WILL occur. This is a good thing. 'Magic'/quality time has long been known to increase the frequency of smiling and laughing as well as decrease the occurrence of heart attacks and feelings of discontentment. It would seem that appearance of magic is a universal law, much like Pythagorean Theorem, and to date, there are no documented discrepancies in its existence/frequency regardless of geographical location, social circumstance, cultural affiliation or any other factor.

3. Magic will surface with the most frequency in the things you spend the most time doing—Hello!?! The law of averages??? If magic is random and inevitable, it only serves to reason that it will surface most often in the activities you spend the most time (ahem, QUANTITY TIME) doing. This is good news insomuch as it is the part of this mathematical equation that you can manipulate. This is where one might find it useful to call to mind your own unique values in terms of which areas of your life you would ideally like 'magic'/quality time to surface. If it is desirable for you to have 'quality time' with your kids, then perhaps consider how this will factor into the 'quantity' investment of your time this weekend. If you are looking for that 'magical' golf swing, consider booking a few tee times. If the magic in your career is lack-lustre, put in a few extra hours. It really is quite simple.

There you go! You can't argue with Math. Choose wisely how you spend your QT (quantity time), and all that's left is so sit back, relax, and allow magic to happen.


  1. I love this, Adele. The trick is always to make ourselves available for the magic! (Maybe by not overscheduling life as we know it...)

  2. Amen to not over scheduling, Maria ! . But Somehow I always find myself doing it