When my first child was born 20-plus years ago, the word from the "experts" was that "quality time, not quantity time" was what was important. Now, based on recent research, they are singing a different tune.
I cannot tell you what a relief it has been to me to find out that all these years I have not been inadequate because I spent my time just raising my children.
When one of my neighbors declared that every mother needed a hobby and promptly hired a baby sitter so she could go to the video arcade, I made laundry my hobby.
Other parents seemed to manage fine without spending the inordinate amount of time with their children that I spent with mine. Now it appears that perhaps I was on to something.
There were many messy, less than "Norman Rockwell" picture-perfect moments in all that time we spent connecting. In fact, most of the quality time has become apparent only in the rearview mirror of hindsight. Such moments looked pretty much like total chaos when they were occurring.
At times, my children will look at me with quizzical expressions as if I were from another planet when I know what they're thinking and what they plan to do.
At these moments, I just remind them sweetly that I have been through the most intensive surveillance training in the world - motherhood. These well-honed skills are the result of having spent more than enough time "meddling" in my children's affairs. No part-time amateurish endeavor would have worked.
The possibility does exist that if I had had better-organized children, I would not have had to be on duty 24/7. This was not the case, however. My children refused to be programmed into a time slot.
Now that it is all right for me to come out of the closet and admit to the fact that I had to spend copious amounts of time with my children in order to get the quality, I wish to share some cautions with other parents who are contemplating this course of action.
One Friday, my daughter, then 15, called me from a friend's house where she had gone after school. She needed me to interrupt dinner preparations and come pick her up immediately because she had to come home so she could "talk."
For the next 40 minutes, as I continued cooking, she sat perched on the desk in the kitchen regaling me with a replay of teenage conversations strung together with the word "like," as if they were pearls on a necklace strand.
When my eyes began to glaze over from information overload, she hopped down off the desk and announced that she had to go because she was returning to the same house where I had picked her up 40 minutes before. Her parting comment was: "Thanks, Mom, I needed to talk."
To this day, I cannot tell you what was discussed, but it was obviously important that I hear it.
Our son, who is now a college student, chose to come home during his winter break and share his dirty laundry with his mother rather than go lie on a beach in some tropical locale with his friends.
Aha, I thought: Laundry as a hobby has paid off.
During this visit, we went as a family to a showing at the local Imax theater. The young couple seated next to us remarked how unusual it was to see children the ages of ours willing to spend time with their parents, especially on a Saturday night.
This comment caused me concern about the effect all this quantity-quality time may have on the establishment of the empty nest that I have been diligently planning all these years. I wonder if any long-term studies have been conducted. Where are the "experts" when a parent really needs them?