The Myth of Quality Time

My wife and I are parents of an eight year old and a six year old.  When I was studying the family-work dynamic in graduate school, I became very familiar with the research and positions associated with the “quality time versus quantity of time” argument of child rearing.

You know the argument.  The idea is that the amount of “quality time” (whatever that is in the mind of a eight or six year old) with a parent or primary care giver is more important to the child’s overall development than is “quantity of time” with said parent or primary care giver.  In other words, your being around a lot doesn’t matter a whole lot.  What matters is that you are around when it really counts.

Of course, how one can predict the occurrences of when the “times that really count” will happen is beyond me.   But there is a bigger problem here:  The “quality versus quantity” argument is a false one.  Relationships don’t become stronger or don’t dissolve because we’ve chosen (or not chosen) the exact right moment to be present.  They grow stronger or weaker ultimately because of how much time and attention we pay overall.

Think about it:  Want a stronger relationship with your spouse or partner?  Think and do things with and for them more often.  Want a stronger relationship with your parents?  Call more often than once per month.  Find out what is happening in their lives.  Show interest and do it regularly.  Want a better relationship with those on your team?  Take more time to engage them.  And our kids?  They talk to you about the important stuff when you least expect.  They come to us when they are ready, not when we’ve scheduled them.

Almost regardless of the type of relationship, the quantity of time we spend engaging with others trumps the so-called “quality time” idea.  And the reason is simple.  Quality time and quantity of time are not mutually exclusive concepts.  In fact, they are connected in a very specific way – quality time happens within the context of quantity of time.  It turns out, those special, “quality time” moments with our children and others are not necessarily planned and scheduled in our Outlook calendars.  Those magic moments that give us peace and bring joy happen when we least expect it.

But think of how we conceptualize our relationships with our donors.  We schedule them.  We set up meetings.  We professionalize them.  We aim for that quality time.  And mostly on our schedules.  Instead, what we should be doing is figuring out how to spend a larger quantity of time with our donors and engaging them.  Go to community events, sporting events, or concerts with them.  Invite them to dinner with no agenda.  Text them about something other than setting up a meeting.  Join them at their hobby or club.   When we build more “wrap-around” relationships with our donors, the “quality times” will happen – sometimes when we least expect it.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Great perspective!

  2. Thanks for the guilt. No, really. Hadn’t thought of it this way. As the father of 9 year old and 6 year old girls, I haven’t been the greatest about the quantity because I always used the excuse of quality. A re-tooling is needed.

  3. Great article as always! Friendraising is not all that different from fundraising. In fact, friendraising => fundraising.

    (FYI fifth paragraph: “Quality time and quality time are not mutually exclusive concepts.”)

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