For a number of years I swallowed the mantra that it is quality time, not quantity time, that is important. But the sobering truth is that although we can't always give our children quantity time, they need both. So often it's the amount of time we spend with them that lays the foundation for our relationship and allows our quality time together to flourish. Author Gretchen Rubin said of our children's lives 'The days are long, but the years are short' and now that I am standing on the threshold of our children leaving home I know how true that is.
Our youngest, Henry, used to jump into our bed every single morning, and a little ritual developed. As Henry snuggled in Richard would get up and have a shower, then come back into the bedroom and throw his wet towel on top of Henry's head. Henry would laugh and giggle and pull it off.
This went on for years, morning after morning, but then one morning as Richard got out of bed to have his shower we realised there was no Henry. He hadn't served notice on us that the game was over, and that he wasn't coming any more, but the fact was, that particular door on his childhood had now closed. However challenging family life can be, try not to wish their childhoods away.
With four children and lots going on in our lives at work and at home, we found that it was difficult to find time with each of our children individually - one-to-one time when we could give them focussed attention. We began a routine where one of us would take one of the children to Tesco for breakfast on a Saturday morning. They would take it in turns and could decide which of us they wanted to take them.
All went well initially until I noticed that my husband increasingly became their companion of choice. Most of us are more insecure than we would like to admit and I began to wonder why they didn't want me to take them. Was I not a fun mummy? Further investigation uncovered the reason. While I had been insisting that they had a 'sensible' breakfast of cereal, orange juice and toast, I discovered that breaking all the rules, Richard was allowing them to enjoy chocolate eclairs, cheesy Wotsits and marshmallows, all washed down with a bottle of Coca-Cola! I decided to put my resolve to give them 'five a day' on hold just for that moment, as I reminded myself that the purpose of this outing was never was about the breakfast. It was simply about spending time together, and I needed to relax the rules if I was ever going to get a look in!
Generally, the conversation wouldn't be about anything significant, just time spent together. We would talk about football stickers, glitter pens or the latest playground craze, but just occasionally we would hear about something more significant. I remember one of our children, who had recently started school, confiding to me in hushed tones across the table that he didn't want to go the school the following week because he didn't know where to put his lunch box when he arrived. That one was fairly easily resolved. Others were more challenging. There were conversations about perceived injustices at school, struggles with friendships, or hopes and dreams that they had. Plans to play for Aston Villa, to be a fighter pilot, to own a mushroom restaurant called Fungi ( ... don't ask!) and to be a lead singer in a rock band were all dreamed up over breakfast at Tesco.
Making the most of the time we have with them - quality and quantity time - doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. It doesn't have to include deep communication, it is time spent just being - hanging out or simply engaging in the ordinary things of family life together. Things like making biscuits, going to the park, playing football or watching television - activities where our children know that they, rather than the activity, are the focus of our attention.