If you're a working parent, you've likely heard — and probably participated in — the debate about quality time vs. quantity time when it comes to your children.
This column is not going to settle that debate.
However, as I try to bring my work life and home life into better balance, I have recently rediscovered something that helps me satisfy both my own quality and quantity concerns.
It's the father/child outing.
Six years ago, these were known as daddy/daughter dates in our family, and I was doing a pretty good job of spending some time with one of my girls every Saturday. I looked forward to these events as much as they did, even if they consisted of only a quick trip out for breakfast or time in a store running errands.
My girls were all little then, but I treasure the memory of those outings. They gave us a chance to talk one-on-one. I learned so much about what my girls were doing in school, what they liked and disliked, what they hoped for, what they feared.
At the same time, I was able to show that I really wanted to listen to them. My wife, who was able to work such conversations more into her daily routine with the children, told me they looked forward to their "dates" with me all week while I was at work. Our system was working great.
Then, a little more than five years ago, we had a son. For one thing, that meant it was time to change the "daddy/daughter" name of the weekly outing.
At about the same time, I took on significant additional duties in my local church congregation. Between having a new baby around the house and a major additional time commitment at church, I missed a few weeks of father/child outings. And then, as so often happens, missing those outings became a bad habit.
It's not that I didn't have the time for them anymore. I could have — should have — made sure my schedule included the outings. But after a few weeks, it wasn't expected anymore. We fell out of the routine.
Every now and then, I would try to restart the tradition, but I wasn't committed enough.
So, when my work and church life both changed in the last few months, I decided it was time to make sure father/child outings were once again on the weekly schedule.
I took my teenager to a movie one Saturday. My second-oldest daughter and I went out for ice cream the next. And then I went to breakfast with my youngest girl. Next up is a day with my son. (He says he wants to go to an ice cream place to get "bamilla" ice cream.)
I am, once again, thoroughly enjoying this time with my children, and I've found that it helps me put the rest of my life in better perspective.
It's hard for me to feel motivated to get out of bed some mornings. Maybe there's a tough problem at work that I don't know how I'm going to solve. Or perhaps I'm facing what is sure to be an 11-hour workday and wondering where I'll find the energy to push through it.
I know I need to have a strong work ethic so I can set a good example for my children, and that has provided some motivation to throw my legs over the side of the bed and trudge off to the shower to start each day.
But now, I'm more motivated by what each weekend holds. Work can be challenging and time-consuming, but I know that if I do my best to provide for my family, the payoff is a Saturday outing with one of my kids. Seeing their excitement when I get home after work and one of them reminds me how many days are left until our "date" helps even more.
I still don't get to spend the quantity of time I'd like to have with my children, but I understand that's the reality of life. Hard work is important, because I am one of their role models, and because there are bills to pay. As a father, there's satisfaction for me in that.
But for a few hours every Saturday, I leave work behind and immerse myself in time with my children. And when it comes to quality time, you can't get any better than that.