Quality Over Quantity?

In some quarters, “quality over quantity” is a popular mantra regarding fathering. You rarely, if ever, hear that said about mothering. That thinking suggests a father’s presence is less important to the child. I couldn’t disagree more strongly. While it is true that in many traditional families, the dad is the main breadwinner. He is, therefore, separated from his child for many hours per day while at work. In those circumstances, the more dads are present and connecting with their child, the better. Each moment is precious.

I understand the impulse to want to make a father feel better about time away from his child. However, in my humble opinion, that risks creating the notion that prioritizing quantity is not necessary when it is extremely important. Yes, quality matters greatly. So does quantity! It is not a binary choice – one or the other. Both quantity and quality are important.

How did we get here? The Industrial Revolution changed parenting practices – mostly for the worse.

A Brief History of How Parenting Changed

The Industrial Revolution brought about dramatic changes that significantly impacted parenting in several ways, with contrasting effects depending on social class and regional context. Here’s a breakdown of some key points:

Shifting roles:

  • Fathers: Traditionally involved in both farm work and family life, fathers now became breadwinners working long hours in factories. This led to less time spent with children and a more distant, authoritarian figure.
  • Mothers: Confined to the home for domestic duties, mothers became the primary caregivers. However, their role shifted from practical skills to emotional nurturing and moral guidance. This new “cult of motherhood” emphasized childcare and education but also reinforced women’s domestic roles.

Changing family dynamics:

  • Work and home separation: With work removed from the home, a clear distinction between family life and labor was established. This created a loss of shared activities and traditions that previously bound families together.
  • Child labor: In lower-class families, economic hardship often forces children to contribute. They were sent to work in factories or mines, exposing them to harsh conditions and stunted development.

Evolving child-rearing practices:

  • Formal education: The rise of public schools took over education from the family, emphasizing obedience, discipline, and industrial skills. This contributed to a more formal and structured approach to child-rearing.
  • Increased emphasis on childhood: The concept of childhood as a distinct, protected stage of life gained traction. This led to the development of children’s books, toys, and specialized care practices.

Impact on different classes:

  • Middle and upper classes: Children typically had access to education and leisure activities but still faced a stricter, more authoritative upbringing.
  • Lower classes: Children often faced worse living conditions, malnutrition, and early involvement in dangerous labor. These factors negatively impacted their health and development.

Overall, the Industrial Revolution brought about a complex and diverse range of changes in parenting practices. While some aspects, like increased emphasis on emotional care and education, were positive, others, like child labor and family separation, had detrimental consequences. One of the most devastating consequences is its contribution to the dramatic increase in fatherlessness.

My Family History

It’s important to remember that these changes varied greatly depending on social class and historical context. In my family’s history, my late father worked on our family farm in Lowndes County, Alabama. On some non-school days, when he went to work in the morning, he went out the back door and took his older children with him. They spent the day together. This proximity provided ample opportunity for father-child bonding, teaching moments, and behavior modeling.

By the time I was old enough to work with Dad, he had sold the farm and moved to the city of Dayton, Ohio to better provide for his family.  Because he worked away from home, sometimes with a part-time job to supplement his pay, I and my younger siblings saw much less of him. With his many responsibilities as a husband, father of thirteen (eventually), and church deacon, he did not have much time and energy left for us. He tried his best to make the most of his little time with his children. He and his mother and siblings were abandoned by his father, so he did not have a role model. Despite that, he was determined to be a good dad. He is my hero.

What is your family history when it comes to fathering?

 The Goal: Quality And Quantity

The objective of strong fathering is quality and quantity of time with our kids. Children need both. Quantity is relative, and dependent upon a father’s circumstances. For example, if he works a 40-hour week, and has evenings and weekends available, strong fathering requires prioritizing spending as much of that time as possible with his family (quantity). Less important activities should be secondary. 

Quality could look like planning meaningful time with the whole family, as well as one-on-one time with each child, and date nights with his spouse. Prioritizing dad-child time may mean turning down overtime because it reduces the quantity of time available for the family.

For a non-custodial dad, the most time you may have with your child is on Saturday for a few hours, every other weekend, a few weeks in the summertime, or something like that. The challenge for such fathers is to define what quantity and quality is possible for them in their circumstances. “The more the merrier”, as the saying goes. Whatever the quantity, quality is the goal. Quantity plus quality is the prize.

Making Every Moment Count

Choosing the perfect dad-child activity depends on a few factors: your child’s age and interests, available time and resources, and desired energy level. Here are some ideas:

Creative and Playful:

  • Build a fort: Grab blankets, pillows, and furniture to create a cozy hideaway for reading, storytelling, or games.
  • Craft puppets: Use paper bags, socks, or cardboard boxes to make puppets and stage a show together.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt: Make a list of clues based on your surroundings and let your child hunt for them around the house or park.
  • Paint masterpieces: Set up an art station with paints, brushes, and paper and let your creativity flow.
  • Have a dance party: Crank up the tunes and shake your sillies out! Add silly costumes or make-up moves for extra fun.

Active and Adventurous:

  • Explore nature: Go for a hike, bike ride, or picnic in the park. Visit a museum, aquarium, or zoo to learn and discover new things.
  • Build something: Construct a birdhouse, a cardboard city, or anything your imagination can dream up.
  • Play sports: Throw a frisbee, kick a ball, or have a water balloon fight (weather permitting!).
  • Go swimming or bowling: Enjoy some physical activity and friendly competition.
  • Volunteer together: Help out at a local soup kitchen, animal shelter, or community garden.

 Chill and Connect:

  • Read a book together: Cuddle up and dive into a story, taking turns to read aloud.
  • Cook a meal together: Choose a recipe your child can help with and make dinner a fun bonding experience.
  • Stargaze: Lay down on a blanket outside on a clear night and learn about the constellations.
  • Have a board game night: Choose a game everyone enjoys and have some friendly competition with snacks and laughter.
  • Do a puzzle together: Work together to complete a puzzle and relax while chatting.

 Remember:

  • Focus on quality time: No matter the activity, give your child your full attention and be present in the moment.
  • Be flexible: Go with the flow and embrace your child’s spontaneous ideas.
  • Make it fun: Laugh, play, and be silly together! Dad-child time is about creating good memories and strengthening your bond.

Action: 6 Tips to Prioritizing & Planning Your Dad-Child Time

These are 6 tips for prioritizing time with your child:

  1. Schedule it: Treat dad-child time like any other important appointment. Block off time in your calendar and stick to it. This will help ensure you’re making time and connecting with your child, even when life gets busy.
  2. Be present: Put away your phone and other distractions when you’re with your kids. Pay attention to them and be fully engaged in what they’re doing.
  3. Make it a two-way street: Ask your kids what they want to do together. Let them choose the activities and take the lead sometimes. This will help them to feel valued and heard.
  4. Keep it simple: You don’t need to do anything fancy to have quality dad-child time. Even simple activities like playing catch, going for a walk, or reading a book together can be meaningful.
  5. Be consistent: Try to make dad-child time a regular part of your routine. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes a day, making time for your kids regularly will show them that you care. Remember… kids spell love T-I-M-E.
  6. Make it fun: Dad-child time should be something that you both enjoy. Laugh, play, and be silly together. These are the moments that your kids will remember most.

 Here are three bonus tips:

  • Get creative: Come up with new and exciting activities to do together. There are endless possibilities for connecting with your child!
  • Be patient: It takes time to build strong relationships. Don’t get discouraged if things don’t go perfectly at first.
  • Be yourself: Your kids don’t need you to be perfect. They just need you to be you. So relax, have fun, and enjoy being a dad!

Finally… Cherish every precious bit of time you can manage to be with your child. Make the most of every memory-making moment.

Guidance from the Holy Scriptures

Parenting instructions God gave His ancient people as recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

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Eli Williams