Quality time versus quantity of time…a parenting dilemma

Quality of time versus quantity of time, it’s a dilemma I face with regards to my kids more specifically the 6 year old, even though it’s been known to rear its head even with the 20 year old. As a mother who happens to hold another job aside from the mom role outside of the house, I always feel like I am on the tightrope with regards to quality and quantity of time lately as I have become more active in taking time for me outside of my worker bee and mom roles, that tightrope has gotten even tighter.

The past few weeks have been hectic professionally as I start ramping up for program changes and have entered my least favorite time of year…grant writing and begging. As a result I know my attention has been scattered at home and a few days ago decided to take a few mental health days where I decided to not work and just be present with my family. A funny thing happened though, here I was all prepared to hang out with my daughter and frankly she just wasn’t feeling me. I spent two days being present, picking her up from school one day to have a tea party at a local bakery, something she had requested. Of course it was during the heat wave, so the bakery really wasn’t comfortable and the kid didn’t want tea.

I figured I would try again the next day and made the decision to switch some plans around so that Friday we could engage in a little baking time as we prepared for the Spousal Unit’s birthday and then followed up with something she had asked me about…make our own pizza night. A slightly better response but still not quite the mom-kid bond fest I had hoped for but the weekend got better, granted it happened when I was less mentally present and you know what? That’s okay.

Last night before I unplugged for the evening, I came across a twitter conversation about raising kids and the balancing act and saw a discussion on quality of time versus quantity of time. I think this is something many parents grapple with especially in the SAHM versus WOHM path. Yet as a parent who has an older (adult) child, I found myself wondering how many of us give our kids what they need? Or frankly even what they want?  In the past, I have always tried to have high quality time, yet both of my kids to varying degrees frankly are more interested in quantity of time. I have tried to ignore that fact, but for us it’s our truth. The 6 year old is far more happy on days when I am home when she comes home from school and even if we are not directly engaging, she just likes knowing I am here should she want to engage with me. Same thing for college boy, when he is home, we often will do things, but our best connections always seem to happen late at night generally when I am heading to bed and we end up talking for hours.

I personally prefer quality time, for me when I am in a place where I am fully present and engaging with my kids, and maybe it’s because deep down I know quality of time feels better to me when I am short on actual time. Yet in 20 years of parenting, I am becoming more and more convinced that just as we raise our kids, our kids raise us and gently shape our parenting path based off what they need and want.

In the end it matters not what we choose, it matters most that we meet our kid’s needs, as for me, I am thankful I have a job that allows me flexibility to give the quantity of time when it’s most needed.

Mommying and the older child….how do you do it?

Mom blogs are almost a dime a dozen and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Yet for all things child related that get written about, the one area where I wish more moms would speak of is how mothering changes as your child becomes a teenager and then a young adult.

A few days ago, I was out talking with someone I had just met and we were talking about our kids and I mentioned having a 6 year old and a 20 year old. As usual, I was greeted with the “Wow, you have a grown child!” This happens often, after all most people who are middle class and above, at 39 rarely have grown kids. Granted this is a relatively new phenomenon as women delay having kids but in reality it wasn’t that long ago that having a 19 or 20 year old kid at my age was a norm. In some areas especially within lower socio-economic groups, having a child before 21 is not abnormal. It’s one of many ways that I am reminded of my status as a class straddler, after all I was born working class and while I am not technically still there, in many ways it’s what I know.

Funny thing is people who have younger kids often assume that by the time a kid is in college, the active work of parenting is over. Yet my own experience as I walk this path is that nothing could be further from the truth. Instead it’s a place of great transition and one that frankly at times I wish more people would talk about.

Last night I had a text exchange with the college boy that reminded me that we both are trying to find our place. My son is 20 but he is also a full time live on campus college student stuck in the wilds of Northern Wisconsin. He devotes his energy to his studies and his music. Since going to college he has learned to live on his own, but the reality is that me, The Spousal Unit and the former Spousal Unit financially provide for his day to day living. As I joke college kid is still on my payroll. Yet what does that mean?

I know that in the almost two years since the boy went to college that both me and the former Spousal Unit have tried to learn new ways of being with regard to allowing college kid the freedom to make his own decisions. I rarely offer edicts, in fact I am pretty sure I don’t but if I feel strongly about something, I will state that I strongly suggest that he consider my point of view. When college boy’s car became a death trap, the former Spousal Unit didn’t tell college kid to stop driving but also strongly suggested that he give up the car since it was beyond repair…again the college kid chose to heed the advice but what happens when a time comes when he decides not to heed the advice?

I must admit this is all new territory for me, at 20 I was getting out of an ill-fated marriage, struggling with being a single mom and trying to keep my head above water. My son often comments that my life at 20 in no way resembles his life at 20. It’s true. My own parents didn’t feel that I needed to be parented at 20 yet in many ways I did still need parenting but it didn’t happen. I think too many times we think that adulthood is this magical thing that happens when we hit a certain age when in fact it’s a process. When the babies are little we know what we need to do, we have a good idea of how to meet their needs but when the calendar says they are an adult, that’s when the process becomes murky. How much space do we give them?

Last night my son responded to a message I had sent him saying “Don’t worry about me, your plate is full” I know he meant well but the truth is as a mother my worrying and fretting  didn’t stop at a certain point, he may not be as labor intensive as my 6 year old but believe me I still worry. I worry when I know he is in a funk, hell I worry when he is not yet I sometimes don’t know when to Mom and when to let go.

The parent child relationship is far more than the early years and it’s an area where frankly I would love to hear more voices from those in the trenches.



Adulthood is the goal

I often find myself thinking that in today’s world of hands on, feel good, kids first parenting that there is one key item that many of us are forgetting as parents. The goal is to raise healthy well-adjusted kids who become healthy well-adjusted adults. No matter how it feels at times, kids do grow up. I know firsthand when you are in the thick of the daily parenting grind and just keeping your head above water, it’s easy to think that today’s cute baby, toddler or preschooler is eons away from adulthood. The grown up years seem so far away, yet as a parent with one adult child, I know that childhood goes by a lot faster than you realize. The reality is you don’t realize how fast it goes until they start driving the family car, graduate from high school or go away to college. Then you find yourself realizing you have a few more strands of grey hair, wondering when they hell did they get there and more importantly who the hell is that adult in your kitchen at 2am? Oh, it’s the baby! Only if you are like me the baby stands a good foot taller than you, has a deep voice and isn’t really a baby anymore but as I tell my son, he will always be my baby!

Yet in today’s parenting world where many of us are trying not to repeat the harsh parenting techniques of our parents and grandparents, it’s pretty easy to get a child to adulthood without that child having any practical life skills. Since my son came home for the summer he has shared stories of his fellow classmates and dorm mates which are frankly disturbing. Kids who don’t know how to wash their own laundry who will let a dorm room start smelling like a stale locker room rather than do their own laundry. Kids who for the first time are handling their own money and freaked out because no longer can they engage in retail therapy as their parents are finally instituting limits and the kids are not only freaked out but in some cases down right depressed.

I might have chalked my son’s tales up to random occurrence’s until I stumbled across this piece in the New York Times and started thinking this is a problem. The other night I was tweeting about my son’s cooking, and had a few responses from folks surprised he could cook. Why? My son has been cooking since he was 8 or 9…at 10 he made me a wonderful meal of Cornish Game Hen and rice. Hell, last summer he shared his killer fried rice recipe with both my husband and I and it’s now a staple in our household. Just the other night he decided to make himself some General Tso’s using tofu which judging from the smell it came out pretty damn good and he made it without benefit of a recipe which is a useful skill.

The reality is there are way too many kids turning into adults who lack the ability to cook, clean, shop and balance a checkbook. We as parents just assume at some point they will learn these skills but how are they going to learn them if we don’t teach them? I am a big fan of bringing kids in the kitchen with me, even if all they are doing is watching; believe me they pick up things. A while back I shared some pictures I took of my almost six year old cleaning and a few buddies of mine were surprised…why? I grew up in a family where Saturday morning was cleaning day and even as a small kid there was always something I could do. When my girl was 4, I would give her a bucket of vinegar and water and a sponge so she could assist in wiping things. Too many times we focus on the fun stuff; carting kids here and there which is great but real world skills are even better and can be made into a no cost fun time.

Just last week my son flew to North Carolina and his return flight was delayed yet he was able to get a new flight into a different airport, by the time I knew of this situation he was already in Boston getting ready to board the train to Maine. A few years ago I would have been the one calling and rescheduling things but as a seasoned traveler and more importantly a young man he told me recently he feels this stuff is his responsibility. I admit it feels bittersweet but at the same time I am proud of him. I find he is asking for my help less often and while there is a part of me screaming Nooooo! I know it’s time to let go and let him stand on his own. He has friends who are lovely young men but who can’t navigate travel at 19 without the assistance of their parents. This is not good.
No one is saying we must turn kids into mini adults but at the same time we do our kids a grave disservice when at 18 or so they are launched into the world without a clue how to do the daily activities of life.