Time. Too much of it, not enough. Good times, bad times. It’s been there, ticking away in the background since – well, since time began. Then at some point in the 1970s, quality control got involved. All of a sudden, people started talking about quality time. You may have spent a few hours with your nearest and dearest but was it quality time? Or were you just passing time?
It works like this. Father and son spend the afternoon at home together, but if dad has his head in a paper and the young ‘un is upstairs on Planet Minecraft, they’re not really spending time together. Not quality time. On the other hand, if dad takes his son to football practice, that’s quality time. They’re doing something together that makes their relationship stronger.
So a buzzword was born and quality time became a useful promise when we’d been neglecting a loved one. Sorry I haven’t been around; we’ll spend some quality time together this weekend. It worked because our lives have never been busier, so we need to consciously plan time for people we love. The downside is that if our lives are so busy, free time should be the one area where we don’t need structure.
I struggle with the whole quality time thing, as it can take levels of forward planning I often lack. I’m often too disorganised to arrange memorable nights out and struggle to manage a full timetable of enriching activities. My weekends are less Facebook-happy tales of kite making and kayaking, more sitting on the sofa sharing flapjacks and wondering where the day has gone.
So I’m excited to see a shift in thinking. Quality time is out and quantity time is the new big thing, according to family and relationship experts. What’s that about? Well, people have started to realise that while the idea of quality time is good, too often people get hung up on the doing something memorable, rather than being together. So for lots of us, quality time has become more about the hour spent taking a child to taekwondo or the couple going to the gym together.
We schedule small pockets of time for each other, convincing ourselves that it’s good enough. But in reality, often it’s not a set-up that lends itself to spontaneous, relaxed conversation. You don’t get the chilled out, meandering chats one might have eating fish and chips on the beach or pottering in the garden.
As parenting guru Steve Biddulph, author of best-seller Manhood said on a recent UK tour, it’s the drifting, aimless hours we spend with our loved ones that are important. That’s when we share what’s going on in our lives. It’s when we work out who we are, where we’re going and how we’re feeling. This opening up doesn’t happen in the hour we set aside to do a set-piece activity together.
Our best times together happen on long walks together, on car drives, on lazy afternoons spent in some joint activity at home. That’s when people tell us what’s on their mind and that’s when we get to know what makes them tick.
So ditch the agenda, stop the clocks and enjoy this moment in time.
Words Alexandra Borthwick