I was at a conference attended by a group of very, very successful business people when one of them was asked how he managed to achieve so much at work and be with his family. “Well, I’m not at home a lot,” he answered, “but when I am, I spend quality time with my wife and kids.” Whoa! It made me want to stand up and shout, “No! You’ve got it all wrong.”
You see, quality time, in the way many people speak of it, is really a myth—maybe even an excuse to make people feel better for making what they know, deep down, to be poor choices with their time. Because you simply can’t just plan meaningful time like you can a business meeting: “Son, let’s have a deep discussion about things at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.” Real life doesn’t work that way.
Quality time is often a fruit, not a root. It’s what grows out of what you are planting in the everyday moments and interactions of life —it comes from quantity time. It’s tough to harvest quality time without first sowing the quantity time. All those hours you spend together doing the ordinary, day-to-day things are what create the environment for the special moments to occur.
If you want to be the parent your children need, you are going to have to make four important choices that will allow you to find and enjoy more quantity time with your kids.
1. Decline opportunities.
Some things you are just going to have to pass on, no matter how good or appealing they might seem. For me, that once meant turning down an invitation from the governor of Florida to serve in his administration and lead one of his departments. Much as I felt honored and believed in the cause, at that stage in our family life, when my children were young, I knew that it was not right to sacrifice their needs for others. I had seen too many people in public office whose own families had suffered as a result. It’s tempting to let a good job offer dictate the rest of life, but accepting the offer may not always be the best thing.
Then there were occasions when Susan and I had to talk about her limiting the amount of time she gave to volunteering at church and in the community, Again, these were good things to do, but not the best things for our family during that season. We also need to be honest and recognize that sometimes we take on responsibilities more because they make us feel good about ourselves than for what we can offer, and we treat busyness as a badge of honor.
2. Defer opportunities.
Putting your family first doesn’t always have to mean saying, “No.” Sometimes, the answer might be “Not now.” Another personal example: some years ago, I was considering running for Congress. Again, Susan and I knew it was not the right thing to do—then. But, at that time, we thought it may be something for me to revisit in the future.
Knowing that you can pick something up again in the future makes it a little easier to lay down in the short-term. Parents with small children may decide to forgo training to run a marathon, or playing golf regularly, because of the amount of time each takes, knowing they can still pursue those interests when they are older. It’s helpful to explain these kind of decisions to your children, too, as it models for them the decision-making process and delayed gratification as well.
3. Control your calendar.
Time management at its simplest is this: If you want to do this, you can’t do that. Make a point of saying “yes” to more things inside the home and “no” to more things outside—and then put them on your calendar. If you block family time off on your calendar, it becomes easier to say “no” when people ask you to do things that conflict with your family time. You must Own Your Family Calendar or it Will Own You.
4. Be there.
Children may not always remember that you were there for all their events, once they are grown–but they will remember when you were absent. Attending sports events, recitals, and school presentations is about building memories. It also communicates to your children that they matter more than anything. Think of all the firsts in your child’s life: first steps, first day at school, first bicycle lesson, first band performance, first track meet. How many were you there for?
You may not be able to be there for every one, but you may be able to juggle your work responsibilities more than you think: here are 5 Ways a Busy Parent Can Be There for Their Kids.
Which of these four important choices is it hardest for you to make and why? Please share your comments below.