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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Dad's Point of View: There's No Such Thing as Quality Time

I keep learning this great lesson. It’s something I know, but seem to have to experience repeatedly for it to sink into my stubborn head. There’s no such thing as quality time, only quantity time (with kids).

Some people actually believe that they can schedule quality-time with their kids, in which they believe their kids will open up, reveal what’s really going on, and share. They want to schedule this time the way they schedule a business lunch. But, kids don’t work on these kinds of schedules. They’ll open up when they’re good and ready and usually this will be when you least expect it, as happened one weekend, a couple of years ago, with my younger son.

I bribed him to come skiing with me; yeah, hard to believe, but he wasn’t interested. My older son was, but my younger one got cold the first time we tried and has been against it ever since. My younger one wanted to quit early, as he was tired. Instead of berating him, I supported him and told him he was doing great. I didn’t push him. The upshot was both he and his brother were tired after a couple of hours.

The same thing happened the second day. Again, I supported them. Each day, as a result, we were in the condo early. It was hard for me, as I so wanted my boys to enjoy winter sports. So, how does all this relate to the quality-time idea? Simple. I hung with my boys all weekend. I let them set the pace. I was there for them. The bribe for my younger son was a Lego he really wanted. When we returned home, he stayed up till after midnight working on it. At 12:30 he comes into my room, sobbing, that he’d broken it. I knew he was just running on fumes and desire. Gently, I coaxed him back into bed and he fell asleep within moments.

The next morning, he arose and immediately went back to the Legos. I was working on the computer and quite focused. After a while, he came to me asking for my help to fix the broken Lego. I was about to say “later,” as I was intent on what I was doing. But, I realized this was a breakthrough as he is the kind of kid who doesn’t reach out and ask for help. So, I said “sure” and went in his room and worked with him on it, finally figuring out the mistake he’d made. He was ecstatic and then didn’t want me to leave as he continued to put it together. This is the quantity time thing; staying there, being there. It was a special moment and I’ll cherish it.

It’s these moments that matter most in our lives, the little ones, like building a Legos with your 8-year-old and figuring out where the mistake was. I hope I never say “later” to my kids again. This theme was hammered home on a more recent ski trip I took with my younger son, now 12. By now, ironically, he actually sort of enjoys skiing while his older brother has given it up to pursue his rock star dreams. My younger son being more of a pleaser in general has gone along, or so I thought. So, it wasn’t clear to me if he was skiing out of a genuine interest or a desire to please me.

But I do know I wasn’t helping the cause by my impatience on the slopes, impatience with his slower speed (getting ready, moving, excitement, etc.). It always seemed all my efforts to help him with tips were in vain. By the time we’d get to the slopes my energy was negative and he felt it. This trip was different. First, we both suffered from bad altitude headaches on arrival. Taking care of him, mothering him so to speak, allowed me to further recognize he’s still a child.

Thankfully, the next morning he and I felt just fine. I made a commitment to myself that I would go at his pace, be patient, no matter what, and that the goal of this day of skiing was just to be with him. The result; we had by far our best day together skiing. My supportive energy was apparent to him, unspoken, and we communicated and enjoyed the day fully. I went at his pace, he listened to my tips, and we laughed and had a great time. And, his skiing improved more in this one day than in all our previous outings combined.

What a lesson in attitude for this Dad; what a lesson for all relationships. When you show up with an open heart, an open mind, and for the other vs. yourself, you have every opportunity to win, to succeed, to bond. This is the quality time we all strive for, though it was the quantity of time together that allowed the quality to surface. So, once again, one of my mantras came true: the only thing good about getting older is the possibility of getting better.

Please visit to contact Bruce and to enjoy the various features his new Web site offers, including a unique Ask Bruce For Advice section, an archive of his columns, contact info, links to his published work, photo galleries, and reader comments, plus much more. Bruce Sallan was an award-winning television executive and producer for 25 years. Google him if you really want to know more (e.g. his credits). When his boys were quite young, Bruce left show biz to become a full-time Dad. Shortly thereafter his marriage ended and his wife abandoned their children, leaving the State. Bruce found himself a full-time single Dad, in his late forties, as well as a returning single man to the changed world of cyber-dating. It became a classic “sandwich” situation when he also began to care for his ailing parents. He began writing various blogs on the dating sites he used as well as articles for local publications. The goal of his column, A Dad’s Point-of-View, is to primarily focus on parenting and occasionally other issues from the male perspective. Presently, his column is available in over 50 newspapers and Web sites in the U.S. and internationally. Bruce lives in Agoura, California with his second (and last) wife and two boys, who are 15 and 12.

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