It’s one of those lines we throw out casually: “I want to spend more ‘quality time’… ” whether it’s with friends, with family, with your kids, or with yourself. We spend an inordinate amount of money and effort at creating opportunities to get this time too. We plan for it. We pay for it. We’re anxious at the slightest delay or weather that might disrupt it.
While it all comes from a good place, there’s a disconnect: The perfectionist side of our brain, fueled by movies and Instagram, wants everything to be special, to be “right.” But that’s an ideal the busy, ordinary, doing-the-best-we-can versions of ourselves can’t always live up to.
The result? An inevitable sense of disappointment. A sense that other people are doing better than us. We feel guilt. We feel pressure. We think “Oh, if only I had more money, or a better job, or lived in France where the child care benefits were different, if I had more custody, then things would be good…”
That’s not fair. And it’s also damaging.
The reason, as I ended up writing about extensively in the new book, The Daily Dad: 366 Meditations on Love, Parenting and Raising Great Kids, is that there is no such thing as “quality time.” Jerry Seinfeld, father of three, put it well:
I’m a believer in the ordinary and the mundane. These guys that talk about ‘quality time’ — I always find that a little sad when they say, ‘We have quality time.’ I don’t want quality time. I want the garbage time. That’s what I like. You just see them in their room reading a comic book and you get to kind of watch that for a minute, or [having] a bowl of Cheerios at 11 o’clock at night when they’re not even supposed to be up. The garbage, that’s what I love.
To be fair, Seinfeld is the master of the mundane. Banality has made him a near-billionaire. But there is a deeper truth to what he’s getting at. Special days? Nah. Every day is special. Every minute can be “quality time.”
The Buddhists say this too. That happiness can be washing the dishes. Happiness can be doing farm chores. That enlightenment is about who you are while you’re doing it, provided that you’re present while you’re doing it.