What's the quantity of quality time with your kids?

by Oct 11, 2007

There are times when I love playing with my kids. All three of them are fun, imaginative, and crazy. And besides, I’m a firm believer that every relationship requires some amount of loose, unstructured time together to build the kind of trust that will be required when the inevitable stresses and strains in the family or friendship come.

But there are also plenty of times when I’m too busy, stressed, or just plain lazy to play with my kids. Like every Thursday, when I drop off my daughter at preschool. Each morning they have 20-30 minutes where parents can stay and play with their kids on the playground. While I’m digging in the sand with her (absentmindedly saying stuff like “Ooooh, is that Sai Min you’re making? No? Chocolate yogurt? Oh, that’s nice…”) I’m usually mentally going through my to-do list. Getting more and more anxious to get on with the day.

I usually feel enormously guilty about it, but according to this article in Slate, maybe I’m beating myself up due to cultural expectations placed on us by overinvolved “helicopter parents” who continually hover over their kids:

In an article in American Anthropologist, David Lancy of Utah State University argues that mother-child play (defined as actively engaged, not just rocking or cooing) is rarely seen “when looking beyond our own society.” (Fathers aren’t much studied. Surprise, surprise.) Throughout history and in less-developed cultures, mothers are even less likely to play with their older children. Lancy’s point is that we shouldn’t push play on parents as “the One True Way to raise a smart, well-adjusted child.”

So if nobody else in the world outside of America takes time to play with their kids, we’re not so bad if we’re inside checking our email while the keiki are outside eating centipedes, right? Not so fast. The article lists several reasons why parents in other cultures don’t spend time with their kids: “high infant mortality, the acceptability of infanticide, the belief that babies are ‘brainless,’ and the need for toddlers to grow up quickly so they can help take care of the new baby.”

Hmm. There goes my justification. These parents in Zimbabwe and Tajikistan are busy meeting the basic survival-level needs of their family, and that’s why they don’t have time to play Monopoly. My kids probably won’t starve anytime soon, so what’s the next thing on the list for me to provide? Large quantities of quality time spent modeling love and joy to them.

As Paul says in Ephesians 5, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

In our fabulously wealthy and comfortable society, we’ve been given more discretionary time than anyone in the world. Is the best use of it to be watching football while the kids are bungee-jumping off the top of the swingset in the backyard?

According to Paul, the days are evil. That’s why my kids need every single moment I can give them. And hopefully what happens during that time is that they see Jesus in me.