|FEBRUARY 1, 1989||VOLUME 1 NUMBER 1|
The "Turkey" of the month column is reserved for words and phrases, invented to conceal or disguise particular conditions. Take "quality time." Now here is a real turkey. "Quality time" is a phrase used by parents, usually college educated, to cover up the fact that they are more interested in their professional careers than they are in their children. Most often, these parents work because they prefer to work, not because they need both incomes in order to make ends meet. In fact, parents who would prefer to be with their children but who must be away at work, do not need to use words like "quality time" to disguise their actions. They simply miss their children and suffer the hardship.
"Quality time" means the near complete isolation and alienation of parent and child resulting from the parent's disinterest in the child's existence. Parents who are interested in their children naturally arrange their lives to include their children every day. Interested parents do not have to schedule time with their children any more than they have to schedule time to sleep or eat or go to the bathroom. The quality of their relationship with their children speaks for itself, so there is no need to use words like "quality time."
This discussion of the concept of "quality time" is not intended to be negative or to blame parents, particularly women, for preferring a professional career over mothering. In a forward moving society, mothering a child is held in the highest regard. The society itself is organized to support and to preserve the functioning of women as mothers. In America, a backward moving society, mothering is the lowest occupation. When women stay home to take care of their children, they are perceived by themselves and others as inferior indolents. Women should not be blamed for the mistreatment and abuse of mothers or for the disregard of mothering inherent in the American culture.
However, to properly raise a child requires an enormous investment of resources on the part of a parent. Schools teach people to believe that children require only the most minimal investment by the adults in their environment. Teachers are assigned twenty or more children, each with individual needs, wants, interests, goals, skills, and feelings--none of which are accounted for within the structure of the classroom. Most teachers have no interest in children which is why this structure is so acceptable to them. The few teachers who are interested in children cannot adequately provide for any of the children's needs under these conditions.
In this system, children are treated as if they were all the same. Each is given the most minimal amount of attention and investment by the teacher--the acting parent in the classroom. This is not nearly enough to produce a well-adjusted, healthy child. Parents, having been educated themselves, observed this minimal adult investment in children everyday throughout their school years. They have been programmed into believing that such a minimal effort is all that is now required of them as parents. They have learned an ineffective model of disinterest and minimal involvement of parent figures with children and expect such a minimal investment to produce healthy children who will one day become their adult friends.
Life does not work that way. In fact, the general rule seems to be that what you give is what you get. The idea of "quality time" is based on the notion that a parent has already done what would be required to establish a strong mental and emotional connection between the parent and child. Having established this connection, and separated more now than before, the parent and child must use the time that is available to maintain that pre-established relationship.
For example, when two people fall in love and get married, they usually do so after investing a certain amount of time and energy in one another. Since one or both people will probably have to go out and work, they will not be able to spend all their time together. The time that they will spend will be limited, maybe even more limited than the time that was spent before they got married. But the time and energy that was necessary to establish the strong mental and emotional connection upon which the relationship is based has already been invested. So, in this case, people might spend what could be called quality time.
Children are different from grown-ups. In order to establish a strong mental and emotional connection with a child, a parent would need to invest a minimum of seven years of involvement. So, when parents have a child and one of them, usually the mother, stays home for six weeks and then returns to work, a strong mental and emotional connection between that parent and child has not been established. In fact, if that parent stays home for two full years, it is not enough to establish such a connection. Seven years of involvement is the minimal requirement for any parent to establish a strong mental and emotional connection between parent and child. A strong mental and emotional connection here refers to a relationship in which each person has an extreme interest in the well-being and satisfaction of the other. This does not mean an overbearing interest--just an extreme interest.
If a parent invests a full seven years of genuine involvement in a child's life, then it would be possible for that parent to spend quality time. In this case, quality time would refer to the time spent by parents and children in a relationship in which a strong mental and emotional connection has already been established. Perhaps, for example, mom goes back to work. While she is at work, she thinks a lot about her child. She calls him every day during lunch hour and talks for forty-five minutes, because she is interested in what her child is doing and vice versa. Maybe she calls again late in the afternoon and says, "Hi, I was thinking about you and was wondering how you were doing." She listens to the child first because she is the caretaker and then tells the child about her afternoon. She is spending quality time, only she would never call it that because the quality of their relationship speaks for itself and is based on mutual involvement.
It should be noted here that teachers rarely ever take an interest in children or ever involve themselves in children's lives in the way that would be necessary to establish a genuine relationship. If a teacher were honestly concerned or interested in children, he or she would have to do much more than treat them as little annoyances. If Susan Smith came to her teacher and asked for extra help in math, she would get the help. Later on that night, the teacher would call Susan Smith in order to find out how Susan was doing with the math. In an average day, the teacher would probably need to make ten such phone calls. There are not many teachers that we know of making such calls. And even if they were, it could not make up for the isolation and alienation of normal classroom life.
The point is that the phrase "quality time" in this culture is used to conceal the fact that parents have not taken the time to involve themselves in the lives of their children. For this reason, "quality time" is a real turkey and gets our turkey of the month award. There are those who would say that they have good reasons for working and for leaving their children with babysitters. To them we would say that what you give is what you get. Whatever pattern a parent sets up with a child will become the pattern of their relationship for life. Parents who leave their children with strangers most of the time and invest "quality time" might one day find themselves in a nursing home, cared for by strangers. Although they might be very lonely, each week their children will come to visit and spend a full half-hour of "quality time."