Are you a Quantity or Quality Parent? I’m Both and Neither.

March 6th, 2015

It’s 10 o’clock on a Thursday night. I’m currently sitting in my bed in the dark with my four-year-old passed out asleep on my right arm. The one I type with. Her tiny baby face is lit up by my computer screen, her hands tucked together under her head. She lied there and watched me work until she finally fell asleep.

This tiny part of me thinks it’s sweet; snuggled up next to her. The rest of me feels like shit. My co-worker absolutely would have understood if I’d pushed our conversation back ten or 15 more minutes. But I’d also just returned from a late night at the office, and my brain was still in work mode. Dad allowed her to stay up late until I got home, so this was the only time we had together today, and I squandered it.

It’s not like this every day. Some days. Sometimes a lot of days. That’s why I don’t have the luxury of playing quality/quantity game.

Carla Birnberg recently wrote about the quality/quantity debate on her blog. I adore Carla. She’s brilliant, generous with her time and brain cells, has an energy that I crave and covet, and does not care at all what anyone thinks. Everything she writes almost always has me sit back, nodding my head, mumbling uh-huhs under my breath in agreement.

This time, though, I paused. She made me stop and think about which parenting camp I fall in — quality or quantity. I loved her analogy of saturating the market “with mama-product and hoping, along the way, I’d churn out at least a few quality stuffs.”

Who amongst us doesn’t feel the same way? We all want to do the very best job we can; that’s why we are killing ourselves with guilt and Pinterest projects. My mom never worried about that stuff. Her mom certainly didn’t. And I’ll take a safe bet that neither my great- nor great-great grandmother messed with it either. They just loved their kids the best they could and that was good enough!

Somewhere along the way we allowed ourselves to be ruled more by the opinions of other mothers than by our own two cents and intuition. It became easier to declare Worst Mom Ever and Mom of the Year than to just own the decisions we were making, own the circumstances in which they were made.

Some days, like this one, my daughter and I get so little time together that the quality/quantity argument doesn’t even factor in. Tonight there was no real quantity and there was absolutely no quality… but we were skin to skin, and we made small talk, and I kissed her and hugged her a dozen times, and played with her hair in between chat IMs. Instead of a book, between chat IMs, I read an old blog post to her from when she was two. She loved it, and asked for another.

And so maybe my definition of quality is skewed. Because on the surface I look at how we spent tonight and I’m just appalled with myself. Then I read that scene back and think, you know, that’s not so bad. After all, it shouldn’t be about how I define quality, but how she does. For her, she got to have snuggle time with mom in bed, hear a story, and fall asleep in … on… her mom’s arms. That’s all she needs, right?

Tomorrow I’m taking the afternoon off work. I wish I could say it was by choice, but we’re between nannies and we’re sharing the load with her. She’s having a friend come over to play and I’m throwing our usual super healthy food rules out the window. I stressed for 20 minutes at the grocery store tonight trying to figure out what to make for the kids and what nice thing I could make for my friend and then decided that I’m absolutely exhausted, the most tired I’ve been in recent memory, I still have to work while she’s at school in the morning…and then make lunch? We’re ordering pizza and making sugar cookies. She’ll be thrilled!

And in that, we’ll score a little quality and a little quantity.

I get frustrated when I can’t do some big awesome red-banner star-spangled actual Mom of the Year level thing with her every. single. day. It doesn’t matter to her though. She likes riding the escalator at Target three times in a row. She likes to help load the washing machine and unload the dishwasher. She likes to read an extra story at bed time. She likes when I lean my head over the tub so that she can wash my hair for a change. She likes to sneak in an episode of Gilmore Girls. She likes getting an iced tea at Target to share while we shop. She likes looking at pictures on Instagram. She likes when I help her do the math for a pizza game on the iPad. She likes walking to school instead of riding in the car. She likes when I take even 5 minutes to play “getting married” with her.

This is what’s important to her. This is what she remembers. This is when I get to hear “you’re the best mama ever;” she means it so I need to stop doubting it.

In that list is a lot of quality and a lot of quantity — by her definition.

So it comes back to my rule of all things in moderation. Sometimes there is quality. Sometimes there is quantity. Sometimes there is neither. I’m OK with that.