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Dr. Gail Gross Headshot

Redefining Quality Family Time in an Overscheduled Society

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Remember the old phrase "keeping up with the Joneses"? It used to be that neighbors would try to "keep up" with each other by having similar or nicer houses and cars, and we'd proudly boast about our children getting accepted into a good school or making honor roll when we'd run into friends we haven't seen in a long time. In today's digital world, that "keeping up" culture is expounded tenfold as we are now able to monitor the every move of our friends and families -- as well as millions of strangers -- 24/7 via social media.

A busy family does not necessarily make a happy family.

It is no longer as easy just to live our lives and fret the once-in-a-while comparison with the Joneses; we are now immersed in a daily assault of visual reminders of what we may already perceive to be our personal flaws and shortcomings -- and the perception that a busy family makes a happy family.

One perusal of Pinterest and you understand why it helps fuel feelings of inadequacy if we opt to lie on the couch and read books on a rainy Saturday, when it seems the rest of the parental world is shuttling their children from soccer games to dance recitals to weekend science camp and then building backyard chicken coops before cooking gourmet meals from scratch for family dinners seven nights a week.

It's a hard message for today's modern family to remember, but an important one: a busy family does not necessarily make a happy family.

It is not the quantity of what you do with your kids, but how you spend time with them that matters the most. In fact, over-scheduling children can actually do more harm than good. And, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, just 20 minutes a day of true quality time with your children can make a big difference.

Time to change your perspective of "quality time"

So, if spending two hours every afternoon shuttling your kids between activities does NOT constitute "quality family time," then what does?

It's actually very simple: quality time is just being with your children and being fully present in the moment. That's it.

It means turning off the phone when you read with your kids. It means going on a walk around the block and really listening to what each family member is saying. It means engaging in meaningful conversations with your children so they know their thoughts, feelings and concerns are being heard -- so they know that you, the parent, are the one they can trust to share their day's triumphs and tribulations.

Parents must parent

In the end, parents must parent, and that means taking responsibility for finding those small slivers of time during your busy days to compensate for time apart to really be together.

For younger children: bedtime is a fantastic time to read together and build family bonds.

For tweens and teens: if you find after-school extra-curricular activities getting out of hand and/or conflicting with your family time, don't be afraid to let your children know that they need to make some hard choices and let go of one or more activities. Family comes first, and by letting them make the decision about which activity to cut loose, you are also letting them know just how important you value your time together.

So, be the parent: when you set the priorities for your family, feel free to put blinders on to what the rest of the world is doing (or, at least, appears to be doing according to the Internet). Focus on quality, not quantity, and you'll find the opportunity to build strong familial bonds to last a lifetime.

Looking for more parenting tips?
I share more ideas on how to find and spend quality time with your children in my free parenting tips workbook, Seven Simple Solutions for Smarter, Less Stressed Children.