I used to be a firm believer in quality time. When my two sons were pre-adolescent boys, I tried to spend time with them, but it seemed difficult for me to allocate chunks of time to them when I was working. So, quality time, to me, often meant that, whenever I had a window of opportunity to sit down with one or the other of my sons, I would ask how school was going, or what concerns or issues that they might have, or what they found interesting. They would answer that everything was fine. After about 30 minutes, my window of opportunity would close, and the quality time would be over.
Back then, I was engaged in an intense work environment, which I loved. I was helping to build an international think-tank at the University of Texas at Austin. I was usually at my office early, got home late, and often traveled on weekends. So I relied on quality time, those limited sprints of togetherness that increasingly seemed to me shorter and farther apart as my sons got older.
Then, I had an experience that changed my view about quality time.
When Matthew was 12 and Kevin was 10, my wife, Judy, and I participated in a program on "Preparing for Adolescence: What Parents Need to Know." A child psychologist who specialized in adolescent behavior led the program. The first question he asked in the first of six sessions was, "Who here believes in quality time?" I raised my hand. He then pointed out that what that really means is that a parent suddenly finds himself with an unscheduled 30 minutes, hastily sits down with his son or daughter, tries to have a conversation, and then ends the session abruptly because he has something else to do that seems more important. Yes, that sounded like what I was doing.
The psychologist said that if a parent wanted to build a lasting relationship with his son or daughter, he needed to focus on quantity time, not quality time. Quantity time is hanging-out time. It is just being together without an agenda or schedule or other commitment to dash off to. The psychologist pointed out that this is why adolescents form such strong bonds with their peer group. They hang out together.
I learned that it is only in quantity time that something important is likely to happen. Quantity time requires patience, an ability just to listen, a slowing down of time to let things happen naturally. There is no rushing in quantity time. Sometimes, nothing of significance happens when just hanging out. But there are other instances of hanging out in which a parent learns something really important, like a problem at school, or an insight about a girl friend, or a proud accomplishment, or a disappointment.
So, I decided to try to focus more on quantity time.
One of the major reasons I left the University of Texas Austin to help build the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City was to allocate more quantity time to my sons. The Foundation had a family-oriented culture. For example, the Foundation promoted "sensational summer" from Memorial Day through Labor Day each summer. The building closed at noon on Fridays, and Associates were advised to spend time with their families. So, Judy and I and Matthew and Kevin took up golf together. Playing golf allows for a lot of quantity time.
I looked for other ways to allocate quantity time. I started taking Matthew and Kevin on a guys' trip to Colorado each summer. Just the three of us. We hiked, fished, went horseback riding (where I learned that four hours on a horse is about three and half hours too long), and biked down mountainsides (at death-defying speeds I might add).
I became a caddie for Kevin who competed in golf tournaments in Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Colorado. Four days together. I carried his bag and cheered for him. I was the best caddie he ever had (and the only one as far as I know).
Matthew got into wrestling in high school. Judy and never missed a match. In his senior year, he was co-captain and made the state tournament in his weight class. I was scheduled to give the keynote address at a conference in California on the very day he was to wrestle in the state tournament. But I arranged for another speaker and watched him win his match.
Some of my best memories came about because of what I experienced in quantity time with my two sons. There were moments in quantity time with them when they would give me a gift. "Dad," they would ask, "what do you think?" Then I could share my thoughts. I'm greedy for those memories, and today wished that I had allocated even more quantity time for more of them.
I am a grandfather today with two beautiful granddaughters--Natalie Elaine, 8, and Samantha Erin, nearly 3. Because of the pandemic, I have missed my quantity time with them. Before the virus, Judy and I would have them for sleepovers. That quantity time led to cookie-making and trips to Dream Park, a playground nearby, and making a fort with bed sheets and chairs, and horsey-back rides. Just hanging out. I have a lot of quantity time to make up once we get past this pandemic.
Now, the proverbial tables are turned.
Now, I don't have a pressing schedule to keep or demanding work requirements to fulfill or HR priorities to address around which I need to look for quantity time with my sons. Now, they have their own responsibilities to fulfill, their own obligations to meet, and their own careers to build. Now, they have to look to find quantity time with me. Fortunately, for me, they do.