While it is important that children receive quality time with each parent, children learn the most from the parents’ behavior. All too often “magical” moments of quality time are “caught” in-between the regular daily activities of life.
I couldn’t agree more that parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if you don’t worry about the “learning” aspect of parenting time, being with your child a lot really helps you see them as a person with their own desires, strengths, weaknesses and passions too. And you’re more likely to have real fun when you actually know each other, not because you’re the “fun” parent.
This came into play a few days ago when I had lunch with a gal who shared with me that the child custody arrangement in her divorce was that her daughter was with her fulltime except one night/week when she’d go over to Dad’s house. “That’s all?” I thought, but didn’t say (as it would have been rude and presumptuous) but she felt it was very much in the best interest of the child and that, by her own admission, that evening each week would be plenty for the daughter and dad to stay connected.
But it’s not.
And this is one common myth that I think torpedoes the well-intentioned efforts of many dads, both divorced and married. Being in the same house as your children, or saying “goodnight, honey” does not a relationship make. Parenting doesn’t happen during the time at the street fair or amusement park, the beach or the school activity, it happens in all the dead time around that. If you’re not around for all that “dead time”, you’ll never cross over from “adult who spends time with the child” to being an actual parent.
This reminds me of what proves to be the single most popular article on my blog, actually, The Problem with Hiring a Chauffeur to Drive Your Kids, in which I observe that hiring someone to drive your kids to and from their sporting activities, school playdates and similar isn’t a “time saving” for the parent who would otherwise be behind the wheel but a tragic loss of critical time with the children where you can actually learn quite a bit about who they are and what drives their little hearts. And drives, passions and desires they all have. Just slow down and listen.
I hear an echo of that when I hear parents talk about one parent being the fun parent while the other presumably is the unfun, boring, mundane, day-to-day parent. It’s like dating in a way: you start out just having fun together, but at some point a relationship has to transition to being together when the other person’s not happy. Maybe they had a bad day or something bad has happened in their lives. A dog died, a parent has gotten sick, they got fired. Whatever. Relationships, including parent/child, are defined by their stress points.
If you’re not there for the quantity parenting time, you’ll never be around for those stressful bedtimes, those upset afternoons when they come home after failing a test or being bullied or teased, or that night after a party when they realize that their love interest is too busy flirting with another to even give them the time of day. It’s those moments, the sheer massive time commitment of parenting that makes you a parent. Not plans and schedules and promises of “quality” time.
Sorry, guys, if you’re flying solo like I am, it means you have to put a heck of a lot of love, attention and, yes, time, into your children and their lives. Because without it you’ll always ultimately be on the outside of their lives and your relationship will gradually dim as the years pass. Your kids deserve better than that. Heck, you do too.