Creating quality, loving family relationships requires discerning between what actions are really quality and what actions are nothing more than conformity to social norms. Creating these quality relationships doesn’t require elaborate planning, just time.

Strong family relationships are built upon many components, such as good communication, honesty, trust, love, forgiveness, bonding, listening, shared vision, and shared experiences. Each of these relationship-strengthening components is better accomplished if a person chooses to invest in having quality time with their loved ones.

But, what does quality time really mean? Quality time is a fairly new term that was invented in the 1970’s during a period in history when the pace of life really began to speed up and family members started spending more of their time outside of the home on a regular basis. What were once optional activities for families started to be seen as necessities. Additionally, increased standards of living and social expectations became the norm for more families. Extracurricular sports teams, arts programs, and hobbies were suddenly deemed necessary for children, when generations before considered them optional. Prior generations were content to let their children spend their days playing outdoors inventing complex imagination plays and constructing creative structures like forts and tree houses.

Some modern parents are now more worried about creating college portfolios for their children than nurturing a robust work ethic, creativity, or an entrepreneurial spirit. Before the 1970s, there was no difference between quality of time or quantity of time in the eyes of the people. There was just time. If there wasn’t a difference then, is there really a difference now?

Quality vs Quantity

Is there really a difference in the hearts of people when they experience quality of time or quantity of time? If one parent spends 7 minutes a day (suggested by some child development theorists) talking with their child, and another parent spends 2 hours a day talking with their child, does one relationship have greater gains? Is one relationship somehow closer than another in the long run?

The whole reason the “quality time, not quantity time” statement was made in the 1970s was to suggest that the amount of time spent on something or with someone doesn’t matter as much as how much of an effort a person puts into the time they have. It’s my assumption that this statement was meant to alleviate stress for parents, but the opposite has proven to be true. Parents are more stretched thin and stressed out nowadays than they were in the 1970s when the pace of life was slower than it is today. Parents spent more time with their children daily. It’s amazing how innovation increases the speed of life as it saves time in selected areas. The faster families run, the less connection and quality of time they are really having.

To better understand why this is the case, let’s look at two other relationships that suffer without enough time spent on them. If a couple that’s dating only spent 7 minutes of time talking to each other each day, they would not get to know each other very quickly and not be able to move their relationship to the next level. If a boss and her employees have a 7 minute staff meeting each week instead of the usual one hour, then the employees will not get much time to share their opinions or thoughts and might end up feeling unappreciated and not understood. Romance and business synergy both take time to cultivate. Why would a parent/child relationship or a husband and wife relationship be any different?

Real quality time hinges on the quantity of time a person has to bond and share  experiences. In most people’s hearts, quality time means quantity of time. Relationship counselor, Gary Chapman, listed “quality time” as one the five common love languages people have. My love language is quality time. The type of quality time I want requires quantity of time and attention, as well. Nothing ruins my desire to bond with someone more than that person focusing on a screen instead of me. 7 minutes of time is not enough for me.

Finding Quality in the Time We’ve Got

So how do we find the quantity of time we desperately need when life is so busy? We’ve all had those days when we see too much of our car and not enough of our kitchen table with family seated around it. When families are running from activity to activity, what does quality time look like? Is it even possible?

Carving out quality time looks like maintaining priorities no matter what is on the family schedule that day. While making priorities certainly suggests saying “no” to some invitations and extracurricular activities to make time for family, priorities also remind us to put people first. People are always more important than stuff or schedules. Put the people in the family first, even if you are just driving down the road in the car.

My 21-year-old daughter told me the other day that some of her favorite memories with me are the talks we had on our weekly car rides to and from our women’s chorus practices. She said she loved how much she learned from me and the depth of those one-hour car ride conversations.

In order to make travel moments and chore moments memorable, turn off the distractions and talk. Radios, movies, phone calls, and smartphones all take parents and children away from each other, even if they are in the same room or car. Many parents are finding great freedom and increased family connectivity by only responding to messages and checking email at certain times of the day, usually when their spouse or children aren’t with them.

Finally, play with the children, and spouses too. Families need wholesome recreation to bond and feel joy. Reach inside and pull out that inner child by initiating the fun instead of waiting for your spouse or children to invite you to engage with them. If each family member started more fun times with the group, then hearts would quickly turn toward each other and relationships would improve.

For more solutions to improving family time listen to Nicholeen’s podcast: Chilling With the Children.