Planning Quality Time Is A Load Of Crap

by Beth Pugh
A mother giving washed laundry to her son, who is wearing a Superman costume
Stokkete / Shutterstock

I have heard the term “quality time” tossed around everywhere from social media to commercials to parenting sites. Now that my son is a toddler and I’m a working mom, I have thought about this quality time and how to plan it quite a bit. And I have come to a conclusion.

It’s a load of crap.

I have no problem with planning time to spend with my child. My time away from the office is always planned out to him: my drive to and from work, my evenings and nights, my weekends. All my free time revolves around this little boy who lights up my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Maybe sometimes I’d like to have more of our time spent sleeping, but we’d still be together.

I’m his mom for crying out loud! I know it’s my job to nurture him, care for him, comfort him, and teach him as much as I can every day. I know he needs us to be together. Truthfully, I need us to be together as much as possible, because he’s teaching me. He’s teaching me how to mother, and he’s the only one who can. If I know anything, I know the importance of spending time with my son, and I plan on spending as much time together as possible.

But the idea of planning quality time stresses me out and not just a little. It’s the intense overnight-breakout-when-you’re-a-teenager kind of stress. I feel like I’m a child back in elementary school watching the teacher write our last assignment of the year on the chalkboard, knowing if I don’t get an A+++ I’m going to fail. That’s how I feel when I think of planning quality time with my son, like I’m walking on egg shells and one wrong move is going to scar him for life or the absence of said quality time is going to send him to therapy sessions.

The pressure to chisel out quality time adds stress to my already stressful life. Right now, I consider it a win if my family has had dinner, bathed, and all been in the same room together for more than five minutes by 8:00 p.m. That’s where we are in life, so trying to plan a family project or trip to the park in the middle of the week so we can have some quality time just isn’t doable.

The idea you can plan quality time is absurd anyway. I can plan until I’m blue in the face, but that doesn’t mean the activity I choose is going to mean something to my son. Quality time for a 2-year-old looks a lot different than quality time for me. For him, it might be our daily drive home, when we sing the Thomas song (he loves it, I tolerate it) and he drinks his apple juice. For me, it’s when we’re crafting. I wanted so badly to get a painted handprint from him, so I planned on us painting one night. Painting, he was fine with. Smearing said paint on his palm sent him screaming from the table!

Planning didn’t do me a bit of good. He didn’t care that it was supposed to be quality time. He just wasn’t in the mood. That evening was an epic fail, but it taught me a valuable lesson. You can’t put memories on a timetable like you can doctor’s appointments or teeth cleanings. It isn’t something to be added to a planner on your phone.

My son doesn’t need me to plan quality time.

Instead, he needs to me to make quality time out of everyday moments. He needs me to make as much out of every day that I can. He needs me to make trips to the grocery store special by letting him splash in puddles. He needs me to show him rainbows after a summer shower. He needs tickle fests and dance sessions to teach him to let loose sometimes. He needs sneak attack kisses and imaginary sharks to shoot to remind him to be silly. He needs storybooks and playtime to ignite his creativity. He needs me to help him create a treasure chest of memorable moments with mom.

Those types of moments can’t be planned. Planning takes the magic away from them and away from his childhood. I’ll plan trips for us. I’ll plan vacations. I’ll plan educational exposure to art galleries and theaters, probably to my son’s disapproval. But I won’t plan quality time. I’ll make it.