Way back in the misty, far-away time that was my early 30s, a slightly older friend gave me a bit of sage parenting advice.
I was debating whether to spend an upcoming holiday schlepping my little preschoolers to a fun family-oriented festival at the art museum or to let them run through the sprinkler while the hubs and I putzed around the yard and caught up on some chores.
I didn’t want to waste the day off, I explained, and I could make the case that I was with either of those scenarios.
“It’s quantity, not quality,” my friend said, turning on its end the parenting mantra of the day. (He was also locally famous for this assessment of our local Labor Day street fair: “The gene pool’s pretty shallow there.”)
Quantity, not quality. That flew in the face of everything I had strived for during my first five years of parenting, when I worked long hours as a newspaper reporter and my children spent their days in daycare. Back then, I slept little but threw the most outrageous birthday parties, if I do say so myself. Only now do I realize that the princess birthday party with the homemade castle cake and the pirate birthday party complete with a treasure the hubs and I buried were symptoms of my overfunctioning.
I wasn’t around much, but by golly, when I was on, I was ON!
But by the time my friend suggested short spurts of quality weren’t enough, I was already past that stage. I had quit my full-time job a year before because I wanted to slow down and spend more time with my kids. And pretty quickly, I had realized that the days were l-o-o-n-n-n-g-g-g when you had to figure out something to do with a 3 year old and a 4 year old every.Single.Minute.
So a year in, I was running out of ideas. I feared I’d become one of those mommies who watched soaps all afternoon (they still were on then,) cracked open a cold one around 4 p.m. when Oprah came on and let the neighbors worry about my kids.
Quantity, not quality. What did it mean?
I really wasn’t sure, but I kept it at the front of my mind when I began stressing over whether I was enriching my children enough. Should I be teaching them to read instead of reading to them? Should I enroll them in a kiddie cooking class instead of baking cookies with them? What about signing them up for Ceramics for Children instead of letting them just play with the Play-Doh at the kitchen table?
Quantity, not quality.
And then we had a third child, and I really didn’t have as much time for my neuroses because the older two entered school. And life got busier. And frankly, the birthday parties became quite a bit less elaborate. And “quantity over quality” faded from my mind.
Until a few weeks ago, when I was driving my daughter, younger son and a niece home from the mall. My daughter and my niece began talking about a mutual friend who had been in their Girl Scout troop.
“Wait a minute,” my son said to my niece, “you were in Girl Scouts?”
“Duh,” she said.
“Why aren’t you still in it?” he asked.
Before she could answer, I piped up. “Because she had the worst leader ever. Didn’t even like kids, really.”
Then my daughter spoke up. “Mom,” she said, “you were our leader.”
“Exactly,” I said.
“I thought you were a good leader,” my daughter said. “I loved it when you were our leader.”
I was so stunned I almost hit the car in front of me.
“Are you kidding me?” I asked, flooded with memories of the dread I felt each week as I prepared for the Girl Scout meeting, my panic when the cookie money didn’t add up, the sore on my tongue from the many times I had to bite it to keep from snapping on a hyper kid.
“Yeah,” she said wistfully, “it was great. We had fun. I always thought you planned fun stuff.”
Quantity, not quality. My friend was right.