The Myth of Quality Time

Luke Leighfield’s newsletter linked to a New York Times article from 2015 by Frank Bruni about spending time together. After spending a long weekend with several of my wife’s family at a resort, this passage spoke to me:

There’s simply no real substitute for physical presence.

We delude ourselves when we say otherwise, when we invoke and venerate quality time,” a shopworn phrase with a debatable promise: that we can plan instances of extraordinary candor, plot episodes of exquisite tenderness, engineer intimacy in an appointed hour.

We can try. We can cordon off one meal each day or two afternoons each week and weed them of distractions. We can choose a setting that encourages relaxation and uplift. We can fill it with totems and frippery — a balloon for a child, sparkling wine for a spouse — that signal celebration and create a sense of the sacred.

And there’s no doubt that the degree of attentiveness that we bring to an occasion ennobles or demeans it. Better to spend 15 focused, responsive minutes than 30 utterly distracted ones.

But people tend not to operate on cue. At least our moods and emotions don’t. We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones. The surest way to see the brightest colors, or the darkest ones, is to be watching and waiting and ready for them.

I hope our family time blossoms in the same way.

March 20, 2019


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