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Parenting - Quality and Quantity Time

Excerpted from

Living Simply with Children : A Voluntary Simplicity Guide for Moms, Dads, and Kids Who Want to Reclaim the Bliss of Childhood and the Joy of Parenting


At every stage of my kids' lives, I've wanted to freeze time. To keep them giggling, sweet smelling infants forever. To remain a bit longer as the hub of their toddler and preschooler universes. I hoped, futilely, that my oldest would always tell me stories about his imaginary friend, allowing me a peek into his whimsical four-year-old world. I never wanted my youngest to pronounce his L's properly, wishing he'd keep saying, "Mom, I love you a lot!"

My kids are nine and eleven now, but they're still young boys. My eleven-year-old grabs my hand as we walk along, even in public (though not in front of his friends). My nine-year-old still sits on my lap every morning, snuggles, and shares his dreams with me.

But they're growing every day. The rime will come soon when my oldest will stop searching for my hand, and then my arm will hang limp at my side. Those spontaneous hugs may even cease along with the little "Love you, Mom" that he adds to the end of every phone conversation. My youngest will stop leaping into my arms and quit delivering on the coupon for "free kisses and hugs for life" that he gave me one year on my birthday. Hell forget to ask me to sit down next to him at night and "have a conversation."

So I keep wishing, as many parents do, that time would stand still. Not for the sake of my aging body. I would gladly accept unlimited gray hair, cellulite, and crow's-feet just to keep these boys young for a few more years. . . .

Childhood is a magical time. It's also fleeting. Those years when you can claim to be at the center stage of your kids' existences pass by all too quickly. And for many of us they coincide with our primary wage earning years. Not long ago I overheard two teachers talking about their upcoming retirements at my sons' school. One teacher said she was looking forward to her leisure time but lamented that it all seemed a bit backward. "Shouldn't we have our free time when our kids are young?" she wondered.

You can-by simplifying.

For those of us with children, more time with our kids is perhaps the greatest benefit that simplifying can offer. To me, simplifying is the closest thing to a magic wand, a sorcerer's spell that appears to make time stand still.

Some individuals outside the simplicity movement are under the impression that the ultimate objective of living simply is to accumulate money. It's not. Rather, freeing up money is one of the tools for achieving the true goals of voluntary simplicity, and chief among these goals for parents is having more time with their families.

Long on Things but Short on Time

That we haven't enough time-for ourselves and for our kids-has been demonstrated over and over again.

We haven't enough time to be with the people we love and to do the things we enjoy because we're putting too many hours into other activities. Chief among these "time burglars" is the ever-increasing portion of our life we dedicate to working. According to the Families and Work Institute, the average American employee now works more than forty-seven hours weekly. That's 3.5 hours more per week than twenty years ago.

Despite our economic slowdown, those numbers are rising. An August 2001 report by the International Labor Organization concluded that Americans added another thirty-six hours to their work year during the 1990s. This means that Americans now work 137 more hours yearly than their closest competitors, the Japanese, 499 more hours each year than German workers. It's rushed and hectic time too, with 60 percent of workers saying they still don't have enough time to finish everything that needs to get done at their jobs.

Commuting times have also increased, according to a recent Department of Transportation study, as well as the time we spend watching television-up almost 40 percent since the 1960s. And then there are those mindless hours we waste "gleaning information" from the Internet. In fact, technology - with all of its "time saving" gadgets-tends to worsen the time deprivation problem. Author Alan Thein Durning notes in his hook How Much Is Enough? The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth that "the amount of genuine leisure available in a society is generally in inverse proportion to the amount of labor saving machinery it employs."

If we're spending more time at work-and at the mall, on our cell phones, and figuring out how to work our Palm Pilots-we're obviously spending less time at home. Polls indicate that parents spend 40 percent less time with their children now than they did in 1965. One study found that between 1981 and 1997, "household conversations" all but ceased to exist. We simply aren't hanging out with-or communicating with-our families anymore.

Both adults and kids are feeling this emotional void. In the 1997 Ask the Children survey, 50 percent of parents said that they did not have enough time with their kids. A national poll in 2000 found that "not having time together with parents" was the top concern of teens, tied with educational issues.

Our modern dilemma, according to experts, is that kids actually need their parents more now than they used to because they need that adult contact to sort out an increasingly complex world-a world that is, in turn, sapping kids and adults of their time and energy.

A Society in the Fast Lane

We have a bumper sticker on our car that reads, "Slow Down for Our Kids." It's put out by our city's transportation department as part of a campaign called Reclaiming Our Streets. It is, of course, meant to remind drivers that kids live in the area and that driving slowly is a good idea for their safety.

But I like to think that it has a larger message, that we need to slow down in every area of our lives-for our kids' sakes. From our too-fast cruising down neighborhood streets and our eating fast food on the way to soccer practice to our allowing preschoolers to watch PG-13 movies and giving college entrance examinations to fourteen-year-olds, our society has accelerated.

In fact, our collective solution to our perceived time-shortage problem has been to speed things up. Rather than getting at the root of the issue-that we're spending too much time on those things we dislike and not enough time on those things we value-we've developed a technological solution, in the form of Palm Pilots, day planners, faster computers, high speed Internet connections, and other tools-all, not surprisingly, products to he purchased.

We're also attempting to apply this "faster is better" mantra to ourselves. Our "human" solution is to do two or three things simultaneously. We've even created a new word - multitasking - to describe this approach. The alternative of spending our time consciously, of self-reflection and of making thoughtful choices of the activities we choose to participate in, and then performing them deliberately, is nearly an alien concept.

Tags: Parenting and Families