TTUAC: Quality Time Is Idle Chatter

To Train Up A Child, chapter 20, part 2

Today we continue Michael Pearl’s letter to his sons, which he includes toward the end of his child-training manual. Last week we looked at the beginning of his letter, which centered on advice on picking out a wife who will serve you properly and not inconvenience or annoy you. Today we look at the next section, in which Michael begins to talk about being a good father.

Now, I want to speak to you about being good fathers. While you are still young and unmarried, with no children, do what all of God’s creatures do–prepare the nest for their arrival. DON’T PUT YOURSELF IN AN OCCUPATIONAL POSITION THAT WILL LEAVE YOU OUT OF POSITION TO BE A GOOD FATHER. Plan your life’s trade so as to maximize your role as father. Fathers who become absorbed in their success in business will make lousy fathers. If you gain the whole world and lose your child’s soul, what profit is it? Some workaholics will say they are doing it for their children–providing security, a good education, etc. Why is it that the children of hard working, absent fathers never appreciate their sacrifice and even show disdain and contempt for their father’s success? The reason is that the children are not fooled. They understand the father’s absence to be lack of interest. They believe his career to be selfishly motivated. They see the father getting more satisfaction from his job than from their presence. Whether this be true or not, the results are the same. Business success always passes away. The children are eternal. The education your child will need cannot be purchased at a university. It is purchased by the father in the many hours spent doing things with the children.

I started this paragraph nodding—the frequent emphasis on mothers as parents at the expense of the role of fathers in our society is a problem—and finished it shaking my head. The over-generalizing is intense. It’s as though Michael believes he has read the mind of every child with a father who works long hours. He hasn’t. One person I know grew up with a father who was a doctor and, yes, as a result frequently absent, but we’ve talked about this before, and there is no distain or contempt, no believe that his father was selfish to choose such a career.

His father’s frequent absence while he was growing up did not affect him at all in the way Michael claims here. I’ve talked to others who feel the same way, including individuals with mothers who worked long hours. This is a problem in all of the Pearls’ works—an overgeneralizing, an assumption and assertion that everyone feels and thinks the way the Pearls claim they do when that is simply not the case.

It is absolutely true that Michael has hit on something that can be a real problem—absent workaholic fathers who prefer the boardroom to the playroom. But even here, the problem is often related less to the hours themselves as to a lack of effort to get to know the child or engage with them when the parent is at home. It’s less the hours than the mentality. Michael is far too broad in his treatment: Not every parent who works long hours does so by choice—consider parents working multiple jobs to make ends meet—or remains disengaged and absent while at home.

Oh, but Michael has a response to such an argument.

The concept of “quality” time as opposed to “quantity” is a salve for the conscience of modern parents wrapped up in worldly pursuits. A scheduled hour of clinical like attention makes your “quality time” nothing more than the fulfillment of a business appointment–a therapy session. It can be unreal and pretentious. Insincere attention to inconsequential matters cheapens fellowship. No time spent together can compare to that which is spent in real struggles to achieve common goals. A child will build self-worth, not by being the center of attention in idle chatter, but by actually conquering a real world need–putting up a mail box, a clothes line, cutting the grass, bringing in firewood, washing windows, building a dog house, going on the father’s job and being a real helper.

Do you remember when Don Madill would come to work in our cabinet shop with his little two- or three-year-old son hanging around cleaning up sawdust or hammering a nail? There was no pretense or haste in that father-son relationship. Today, his sons are little men, secure in their role.

The entire point of quality time is that it is not unreal, pretentious, or insincere. Time spent connecting one-on-one with your child is by definition not “idle chatter.” Look—really look—at what Michael is doing here: He rejects the idea of “quality” time versus “quantity” time and then mocks time spent talking with and connecting with your child in favor of time spent setting your child to chores. Yes, really!

Oh certainly, a project done together, an errand run together, these things can be quality time. I’m suddenly curious whether Michael knows that, actually—he seems to conceptualize of quality time as being the equivalent of sitting and talking to a therapist, he describes it as insincere, and as being like a business appointment. But those things—the projects and the errands—do not automatically mean one is connecting with one’s children. It is possible to run an errand with a child while distracted, almost not noticing that they’re with you.

Yesterday my younger child and I went on a walk, stopped for a snack along the way, and picked up some school supplies for my older daughter, before walking back to the school to pick her up from her after school activity. My younger child and I talked. We connected. We engaged. We spent quality time, just the two of us. But—and I think this goes to the distinction between “quality” time and “quantity” time—that time spent connecting was intentional on my part. We could have run those errands in silence, with no more interaction than strictly necessary.

My kids know the difference. There are days when I oversee their homework after school, make supper, serve supper (myself distracted by getting up for things I forgot, the kids eating and bolting), clean up (perhaps calling the kids back to help), and get the kids ready for bed only to have one or the other of the two declare “but I never got to spend any time with you today, mom!” They mean one-on-one, dedicated time, typically spent reading a book together, or talking about things that came up during the day. They mean time spent paying attention to them. 

And that, I suppose, is what Michael dismissively refers to as “being the center of attention in idle chatter.”

 

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