Something in my memory shone on a dimly lit reference to the importance of quantity time as opposed to quality time, running contrary to more common advice. Wanting a brighter view, I set out to back up the notion that quantity trumps quality.
What I found (or, rather, didn't find) is mildly surprising. Plenty of bloggers cite their quantity vs. quality beliefs in conversations about choosing to work at home or not. Other bloggers share opinions that quality time really is important. But I didn't discover a room full of professionals touting either position.
This clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics comes closest to declaring any position at all. The article looks at the importance of free play in children, explaining that when kids are over-scheduled, "… parents lose the opportunity for perhaps the highest-quality time with their children. Some of the best interactions occur during downtime—just talking, preparing meals together, and working on a hobby or art project, playing sports together, or being fully immersed in child-centered play."
Reflecting on this excerpt and thinking about my own interactions with my kids has led me to conclude that quality time sprouts in "quantity time" fields. Without a vast field that can foster spontaneous moments of pure quality, quality time (think a day's visit to an adventure park) looks like a potted plant sitting alone on a shelf. A potted plant might be nice to look at, but it's disconnected, needing only a little water now and then. A field, on the other hand, requires vigorous tending: sowing, weeding, watering, fertilizing … you get the picture.
More often than not, for example, my family eats dinner together. Usually, our dinner conversation is banal. Sometimes, though, one of our daughters will ask a question that flowers into something meaningful. Pure quality. If we didn't regularly sit together at the table, the meaningful conversations wouldn't happen.
It's not just in parenting that we tend these fields but in all our relationships. Not every conversation with a friend brims with quality, but every now and then a gem shines between us that we can hold up and admire and say, "Wow. It's great to be able to talk like this with you."
So I think we need to put in the time. Tend our fields. Let quantity time nurture quality moments and treat those sprouts with care, respect and true attention.