FILED IN: Parenting

Quality schmality.

I read a study somewhere that working mothers spend more measurable, one-on-one quality time with their kids than stay-at-home moms do. I didn’t react as I suspect the experts would have liked. I guess I should have dropped everything, grabbed my kids away from the clutches of Nickelodeon, and started building a working model of a drawbridge out of sugar cubes.

But somehow the study didn’t motivate me. Instead, I just got pissed off. I was under the expert’s microscope again, an uncomfortable position in which all mothers find themselves today.

Excuse me, but what bastard invented the term “quality time” anyway? I took a long look at the concept and saw it as a huge, smoke-belching guilt factory.

How the hell does one measure quality time? Do the survey-takers actually sit in the room with the mother and child, turning over an egg timer every three minutes? Or do they ask questions over the phone?

Well, there isn’t a parent alive, working or not working, who wouldn’t lie when asked how much quality time they spend with their children. It’s like someone asking you how often you have sex. Are you going to tell the truth and say, “Hmm, I think the last time was Shrove Tuesday, if memory serves”? Or are you going to save face and spout the standard two-to-three times a week response?

I wonder what constitutes quality time in the eyes of the experts. Undivided attention while reading stories to our children? Does it count for more if we read Shakespeare instead of Captain Underpants? Will we be docked a few points if we have to change a diaper or swat an errant sibling at the same time? Do we have to turn off our cell phones? Does it have to be reading or does watching that asshole Elmo together on TV count too?

What about other activities? Does watching your kid sit on the potty till your eyes cross count as quality time or is that filed somewhere else, like under “Wiping, Butts” or “Training, Potty (See also Hemorrhoids)”?

How about grocery shopping? I suppose a quality-time goody-two-shoes would use it as an opportunity to point out the wonderful colors of the eggplants (aubergines en français, enfants) and explain the meaning of the phrase Contents May Settle During Shipping. I’m afraid I blew it when I gave them all lollipops and told them to shut the hell up so we could just get the shopping trip over with.

Maybe there’s some kind of definitive ranking system they’ve developed. Turning your living room into an ersatz Elsinore castle and offering to play Hamlet’s mother yourself would be close to the top. The bottom would be having the Cub Scouts visit the crystal meth lab in your garage.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. That would be the vast, slimy Okeefenokee swampland of guilt, where none of our efforts are good enough, original enough or enriching enough.

Quality Time Nazis will say anything can be a teaching moment. Don’t just knock icicles off the roof with a shovel while your darlings play Nintendo. It’s a perfect opportunity to talk about stalactite formation. Don’t tell them to stop pestering you so you can get dinner ready. That would be a perfect time to go through the spice cabinet, discuss the travels of Marco Polo and assign a writing project researching the origins of cumin. And while we’re on the subject, you get mega demerits if you take a Valium while the kids shout “Marco! Polo!” at each other in the pool.

How exhausting. I wonder if these experts have any children themselves. If they do I’ll betcha their kids are sitting in front of the tube while Mom or Dad type up their field study results.

I think people read these studies because they want to believe there is a formula for raising children. Just feed the kid organic beets and read to him fifteen minutes a day and it will all turn out dandy. People want guarantees. No one wants to admit that there are none. No one knows anything. A child from the most awful parents can turn out fine. Parents who did everything by the book can easily turn out a monster.

Maybe they should find better research subjects than us poor mothers. Leave us alone. We’re tired. We don’t want to know how much better everyone else is doing it. It’s hard enough. Let us run around our mazes in peace and we’ll worry about whether or not the cheese will be there in the end.

Here’s a topic the researchers might want to study: How many more times can modern mothers hear about enrichment, quality time and child empowerment before they sock a Child Development Expert in the pie hole? I wouldn’t mind being a part of that study, especially if the cage they put me in comes equipped with a wet bar.