“It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.” If the phrase is a bit cliché we can nonetheless appreciate the sentiment behind it. Who doesn’t want quality? Yet, we should not be so quick to dismiss quantity, especially in relationships. The quantity of time you spend with your family is far more important than we may recognize.
The emphasis on quality time is important. There’s no doubt about it. We want to make the time we spend with our families meaningful and significant. Yet, if we only carve out time for “special days” and meaningful moments we will miss a lot of life. Your family needs more than the special activities once a month, they need time with you. Quantity time provides three important elements to our family life: (1) Awareness, (2) Pattern, and (3) Dependability.
Quantity time with your family provides awareness. Quality matters, but if quality means we only spend time together when there are special activities or events, “quality moments,” then we are not likely to really know one another. Awareness of one another happens within the mundane moments of life. Knowing people, truly knowing them, means understand the things that make them tick, their pleasures, eccentricities, and quirks. It means knowing how they take their coffee, whether they are morning people or “night owls,” whether they are ticklish on their feet or not. It means partaking of the boring routines of life with them, alongside them. Quality doesn’t allow us those sorts of moments. Quality is all about the epic. Quality is about taking time out of the normal flow of life to do something unique and different. Quality matters, but it won’t help you to really know or be known by those in your family. Quantity time is for math homework, riding in the car every morning to school, or washing dishes with your spouse. Quantity provides us a unique context in which to truly know what the people in our family are like.
Quantity is also the means by which we establish healthy patterns in our family. Quality moments come and go, but the routine of life is where we establish healthy patterns, lay down core values, and identify the important habits of our family. Quantity time provides us the context in which we teach our kids about problem solving, as they watch us hash things out over and over again. Quantity time provides us occasions to establish and reestablish what we value as a family. It allows our family as a whole to develop healthy habits of interaction, not just season holiday traditions but daily expressions of love, affirmation, and support. Quantity matters for healthy patterns at home.
Finally, quantity matters because it invites dependability. If dad only shows up for special events, kids don’t get the sense that in the day-to-day grind they can rely on dad for help and support. If there’s a big ball game dad will be there, but if I am stressed about relationships at school I need to ask somebody else for input. Quantity time demonstrates that we are invested for the long-haul, that we will be involved in the good, bad, ugly, and boring moments of life. It demonstrates that we are reliable and that we can be trusted.
Quality matters, of course. It’s not as though you can just spend lots of time sitting together in the same room staring at your phones. Meaningful time makes all the difference, but if meaningful time is sporadic and centered around special events it won’t make a lasting impact on family life. Moses reminds us that teaching our children about the important matters of life – things like character, values, and especially spirituality – happens more frequently in the routine of living day-to-day. In Deuteronomy 11 we read:
18 “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19 You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.20 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.
Do you want your kids to know the things of the Lord, to know most meaningful things about life? They will learn them by means of daily rituals and routines with you. Moses urges parents, fathers specifically, to teach their children the things of God when they are sitting together at home, when they are walking, when they go to bed, and when they wake up in the morning. We have a quantity of opportunities, not just occasional special moments.
When it comes to investing in your families there is not tension between quality and quantity. Both are necessary and both are important. Don’t sell yourself or your family short by giving up quantity time with them.