Rabbi Horowitz's question for next week is posted on his website. The question comes from a set of parents of four children, ages 2 to 9, who recognize the importance of spending time with their children, but can't seem to find any. The parents states: "Balancing our career, family and social obligations – as well as doing homework, carpooling, arranging play dates, attending parent-teacher conferences – is a bit overwhelming at times." They then ask, "Do you have any practical tips for spending quality time with your children when there does not seem to be much in the way of quantity?. "
I think that this is a question that so many American parents are asking. However, the challenge seems to be particularly acute for Orthodox parents as family sizes are far larger, school days are far longer, and Shabbat and Chagim require a tremendous amounts of preparation.
It probably isn't fair of me to offer much of a critique since I have yet to walk in the shoes of dual income families. But I think the subject is important enough to offer a few ideas.
I personally don't believe that "quality time" can be created artificially. I believe that quality stems from quantity and it just happens. In other words, time is like energy, it has "potential," but that potential might not ever be used. So my own ideas of how to create quality time would revolve around creating "quantity time."
Here are some of my ideas:
1. Free Up Our Own Time.
It would be very easy to say to parents, have one parent leave the workplace and become a full time homemaker, people don't take well to suggestions that they are not open to or that won't work for them for whatever reason. Also, there are some parents that do replace work with other commitments, so that in and of itself isn't much of a suggestion. So, while I won't suggest making any major changes in employment (although it is tempting, especially in some cases such as when parents spend much of their time on travel), I will suggest looking at how we spend the rest of our time. That said, I think there are many parents out there who need to reconsider their "social obligations" or other communal commitments and extracurriculars.
A while back, I went to a parenting talk at a local shul that featured a panel or speakers (a principal, a Rav, and a psychologist). All in all it was a worthwhile way to spend an evening. But, I wasn't so impressed by one of the panelists. Why? He accepted the social commitments of parents as a given! As an example to emulate, he told the audience about a very busy Rabbi and parent with whom he carpooled to an event. He was impressed that the Rabbi used 10 minutes (!) of his time to learn with a child over the phone. I was left saying, that is nice, but impressive it is not. The principal went on to tell us how we can use our "downtime" in the car going to and from our obligations as time we can use to bond with our children through learning.
To me, this suggestion was akin to suggesting replacing story time with a book on tape. Supplementing is one thing. But, one cannot replace human contact and it scares me that there are educators out there that take the easy way out and suggest we replace real time with our children with virtual time, via our cell phones. The other thing that really scared me was that the example brought to emulate was about "learning" with our children. Learning with our children is certainly important. But so is just talking with them.
Another area to be wary of as parents biting off too much. Some people like to talk about just how "amazing" the "superwoman" with 6 or 8 kids who works full time or nearly full time, is involved with numerous school and shul committees, bakes her own challah, and hosts guests every week. In life, something has to go. And, I have seen cases where the children or the marriage is what goes.
2. Limit interruptionsSpeaking of cell phones, how about not answering every call (or even more radical, leave it home). Let's start talking to our kids and once we are talking, not letting the conversation be constantly interrupted.
When I was a new parent, I was in the grocery store chatting away with my then one year old and a Bubbe from the neighborhood approached me to tell me how wonderful it was to see a parent talking with their child and that parents today just don't do this. I'm not sure I ever noticed, but after this talk with a local Bubbe I realized that most parents go about their errands without a whole lot of interaction with their children. This is a missed opportunity and it is a real shame.
But worse yet, so many parents allow their cell phones to invade potential "quality time." So many parents spend the time with their children present only in body, as their cell phone is glued to the ear (sometimes quite literally). You'd think we were all high-level business executives or on-call doctors judging by our use of cell phones. No matter where you turn, there is a parent with a child who is on the phone: the park, the grocery, the car, the carpool lane. Some parents are so busy that they forget to say hello to their kids who are so busy talking on their phone that they forgot to say hello to their children before herding them into the car. Of course, I'd like to believe that each one of these parents is dealing with an emergency, but I know this isn't true.
3. Be Wary of Overscheduling Children:
I think it is fantastic to involve kids in activities that they really want to do. I had my activities growing up and I'm sure you did to. But, it seems that the modern parent has convinced themselves that their child needs to have every minute of their day occupied. I think that downtime and free time are vital to developing interests and it is better to hold off on putting kids into extracurriculars until they express an interest in getting involved. And even then, I think parents should make sure the amount that a child is biting off is reasonable.
Please add your ideas for carving out time here and put your comments on Rabbi Horowitz's website too. (Or, let the flaming begin).