Quality Time: Who Needs It?

A funny thing about human relationships is that sometimes, when two people “have a lot in common,” their similarities are more likely to spell trouble than to create harmony.

When he was six, my oldest child once asked me, “Why are you and I so much like…twins?” Given the frequency of our clashes, I found his question surprisingly astute. We do, indeed, have much in common. This shouldn’t suprise me, as I’m also a firstborn, but there was a time when I considered myself sweet and easygoing and generally lovable — birth order notwithstanding.

It turns out, however, that I have a willful side. I take many things very seriously. In fact, I’m pretty intense. Sort of like…my son.

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Not surprisingly, such similarities don’t always lead to peace, love, and happiness. When our personalities collide, it doesn’t resemble oil and water so much as it resembles two large identical boulders ramming into each other repeatedly. As a homeschooler, I spend a LOT of time with my kids, which means that opportunities for such encounters are plentiful. After a long day of teaching, character training, settling disputes, reminding my children to turn lights off, and doing all the other myriad tasks involved in teaching little humans how to actually behave like humans, I start to see my both of my kids as energy-draining, time-sucking projects that I just want to put away when the day ends. In other words, although I love them immensely, I don’t actually want to be around them.

I’m old-school enough that I don’t subscribe to the “make every moment a magical moment” school of thought when it comes to parenting. Much of life is mundane, it often entails hard work, and it can’t always revolve around the special snowflakes that are our offspring. These are valuable concepts for our children to grasp, and learning them side by side with Mom and Dad will strengthen family bonds more effectively than thirty fleeting minutes of designated face-to-face fun time once a day.

And yet…

As Dr. Seuss says, “Fun is good.” Kids need to know that grownups are allowed to relax once in a while, and that it’s okay to take time for recreation. Most importantly — for me — parents sometimes need to breathe deeply, step back, and remember how to enjoy their children.

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My son has a brilliant sense of humor and an amazing aptitude for words. (I say that with no bias whatsoever). My daughter has a wonderful imagination and a joy in life that continually humbles me. Both children laugh beautifully and delightfully. When we go hiking together, swing next to each other at a playground, or even cozy up on the sofa to watch a few episodes of Garfield, I laugh at their jokes, marvel at their insights, and suddenly remember: these are not just projects for me to tweak. They are little people, they have unique personalities, and…now that I think about it?…I like them.

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If all I want is a break from my kids, I can set them up with a video game, shut the door, and go off to bury my frustrations with ice cream and Jane Austen. (Okay, I’ve done that. More than once). Although that technique can be quite effective, sometimes a break isn’t what I need. Sometimes the best remedy for motherhood-induced ennui is for me to say, “Hey, guys — how about we go to that playground you really like, then cool off afterwards at Dairy Queen?”

As we play, laugh, and eat together, I realize that these little people have the potential, not just to be good students and responsible toilet-flushers and civilized meal-eaters, but to be completely awesome, fun, and fascinating people. Come to think of it…they already are.

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