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Q&A # 40 - Quality Time (Part II)
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Chicago Community Kollel

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Continued From Last Week's Column

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We have 4 children ranging in age from two to nine-years-old. We consider ourselves to be hands-on parents and we keep hearing how important it is to be involved in the lives of our children.

However, balancing our career, family and social obligations – as well as doing homework, carpooling, arranging play dates, attending parent-teacher conferences – is a bit overwhelming at times. Do you have any practical tips for spending quality time with your children when there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of quantity?

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

A number of years ago, I was conducting a parenting workshop in a Chassidic community and the title of the talk was, “Building Relationships With Your Children.” In my presentation, I spent a great deal of time impressing upon the attendees the importance of spending quality time with each of their children.

During the question-and-answer segment that followed my talk, a man raised his hand and asked me a very reasonable question. He wondered how in the world I thought that he could possibly devote this level of attention to each of his children day after day? After all, this fellow explained that he left to work very early in the morning and returned home in the evening about an hour before his children went to sleep.

I decided to engage in the proverbial Jewish exercise of answering a question with a question. I asked this individual which person in his community is the most pressed for time. He immediately responded that his (Chasidic) Rebbi was by far the busiest person that he knew. I then asked him how often he gets to spend one-on-one time with his Rebbi and whether or not he enjoys/looks forward to their time together. He said that he meets with his Rebbi once every month or two and due to the Rebbi’s packed schedule, they only have a few uninterrupted moments together. However, he informed me, he very much looks forward to those meetings and treasures the time that he spends with his Rebbi.

I asked him to reflect upon why he finds those conversations so meaningful and perhaps extrapolate some concepts and techniques that he can carry over to his personal life in order to improve the ‘quality time’ that he spends with his children.

After thinking for a few moments, his fellow responded by noting that his Rebbi gave him his full and undivided attention during their time together. He never answered any telephone calls when they were meeting, nor did he allow anyone to interrupt them. Finally, and most importantly, he was most flattered that the Rebbi opened each meeting by asking him about the status of some of the issues they had discussed in their previous meeting.

Well, there you have it. Even in, or perhaps especially because of, the incredibly busy and complex lives that we lead nowadays, I would suggest that following the lead of that chossid’s Rebbi will dramatically improve the quality of your relationship you’re your children and make the most of the limited time that you get to spend with them. Here are some tips:

1) Do your very best to give your child your full and undivided attention during your time together. Make eye contact with them and ask them how his/her day went. Be an ‘active listener’ – where your body language and expressions indicate that the person you are listening to (your son/daughter) is the central focus of your attention at that time.

2) Do your very best not to answer any telephone calls or get distracted when you are speaking to your child. Obviously, this is impractical and counterproductive if you have a significant amount of time alone with your children. But if you find that your time is limited, it is so important to make that time count and not to allow the distractions of modern-day life to give your child a message that he or she can be brushed aside by anyone who has your cell phone number. It is a wonderful practice for families not to answer telephone calls during dinnertime, for example. That makes a very powerful statement that family matters and that your children are your very highest priority.

3) On a very practical level, I think that one of the most effective steps parents can take to nurture and develop close relationships with their children, would be to ask them individualized questions, as opposed to generic ones. I am not suggesting that you do not ask any generic questions, only that you strive to ask the type of individualized questions that convey to your children that you are part of their lives, remember things they told you the day before, and that you really, really care.

Some examples of generic questions are: “How was your day today?” “How are you feeling?” “How was the bus ride today?” “How was lunch?” Those are all OK questions, but when you think about it, anyone can ask your son or daughter questions like these – even people who don't know them at all.

Individualized questions, on the other hand, can only be asked by those who are intimately familiar with the person's life, and are therefore far more effective at building relationships then are generic ones. Here are some examples: “How did you do on your chemistry exam?” “Did things improve with that friend you were having difficulty with yesterday?” Basically, what you are doing is picking up the conversation where you left off the day before – just as the Rebbi did with his talmid.

As a ‘take-away’ from reading this column, I would ask you to try to ask each of you children one or two individualized questions each day. I can almost guarantee you that the quality of the relationship with your children will improve as a result of implementing this practical and relatively simple technique.

I commend both of you for exploring ideas for maximizing the (limited) time that you spend with your children. As I mentioned in last week's column, this does not replace the importance of carving out as much quantity time with your children as possible. I will close with two paragraphs from last week’s column.

One of the great ironies of life is that when our children are young, they are almost begging for our time, our love, and our undivided attention. Once they hit adolescence, however, it is almost complete role reversal. Now, they are too ‘busy’ for us. It is then that we often beg them for their undivided attention, time, … and love.

So, I plead with you to start getting in the habit of spending permanent, quality time with your children when they are young. The saddest thing that I (sometimes/often) hear from at-risk teens when I encourage them to discuss their challenges with their parents, is: “My parents don’t really know me.” No, spending time with your children will most certainly not guarantee that they will remain trouble-free and on the path to success. But it is the only way for you to be able to guide your children as they grow through adolescence and beyond.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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