As a parent, it is easy to worry about spending “quality time” with my children. We live in a busy world and family time is usually limited. We’re often told that if “quantity of time” is lacking, we can make up for it with extra-special “quality”— activities, outings, vacations, etc.
But I’m always fascinated when I talk to people about their greatest childhood memories— they’re rarely glamorous. They’re almost always extraordinarily simple. Usually the memory involves a parent or grandparent not doing anything particularly unique, but just consistently “being there.”
I think of my grandmother when she talks about her grandfather— how he used to get up around 4am to light the fireplaces and then go wake her up to eat buttered toast and drink cokes together. I think of my mom talking about going fishing with her parents and falling asleep in the bottom of the boat. I think of my husband’s many mornings collecting eggs with his family on their chicken farm. I think of my own fondest memories like taking the scenic way home from school on a rainy day while listening to Nat King Cole. And now I get to hear my oldest son tell us about his most important things. He definitely enjoys the trips and events and parties we’ve planned for him, and I know those are important! But I’ll never forget when we told him he couldn’t keep getting up so early to watch the sunrise with his daddy. The tears fell hard and fast, but we always get up and watch the sunrise! And we sit on the sofa and we look out the window and we…. eat… crackers! He could barely get it out and we could barely hold back our laughter at the fact that crackers could be such a dramatic thing. But then it hit me. This is what he’s going to remember. This is how he will remember his daddy.
Quality matters. It matters that my son and my husband watch the sunrise rather than a violent TV show. But what also matters is the consistency of my husband’s presence for that morning ritual. Grand things amaze us and inspire us. But small things comfort us. Small, reliable, consistent, trustworthy things like fireplace hearths and warm cookies and familiar smells and arms that hold you early in the morning. We all need grand things in our lives but we also need the small, ever-present ones. Children especially do. We know this well with infants. We are instructed to swaddle them, wear them in baby carriers, mimic the womb. But, to some degree, older children also need us to mimic the womb. And in the womb, the quality of time, while beautiful, is probably quite simple. But the quantity is seamless.
I know I can’t put my children in an environment just like the womb. I can’t always be shrouding them with comforting presence. There are dangers and they will be afraid and they won’t always be shown love. But I can give them many moments that are like the womb— consistent moments of simple peace and security— like walking through the same grocery store aisles or driving to look at falling leaves or Saturday mornings with their grandparents or cooking dinner or reading books or saying prayers, or, of course, watching the sunrise. Because it is within the context of that slow, simple quantity of time that they can feel safe letting go and learning to trust. It is within the context of quantity of time, of many, many womb-like moments, that they will really learn the nature of love.