Jayne Dawson: Stop it with the nonsense about family ‘quality time’

A family prepare to tuck into their Christmas dinner.
A family prepare to tuck into their Christmas dinner.
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The average length of time a Leeds family spends on “quality time” together each day is 39 minutes.

I hate that. don’t you? Not the 39 minutes because, truth to tell, that sounds like a fair old slab of time to me, No, the other thing, the “quality time”.

That phrase drives me up the wall.

It’s so very fake, so psycho-babble, so very ...American.

I’m happy to say, straight out, that I love my family. I would lay down my life for my children, if required, but basically I would prefer everyone in my family to live forever. That’s how it is with blood ties and biological programming.

But the idea of special, self-conscious “quality time” leaves me cold. What are we supposed to do with it?

Families get along best together, have their happiest times, when they are not self-consciously being a family. That’s the beauty of family. They are the only people you can sit in a room with silently, not bothering to make conversation.

The normal activities of life are the ties that bind us: the sitting on the sofa watching television, the bickering over whose turn it is to clear up the kitchen, the tense early-morning conversations about which colour bin needs to be put outside, the telling someone that you are going to bed/have a shower/make a cup of tea, the texts saying “buy milk” or “the cat has been sick on the rug again”.
 These are not moments to discount, these are family life. We are bonded by the humdrum, the familiar, the everyday.

The big, standout moments, the “quality time” are where we come unstuck: the holiday-of- a-lifetime, the dream wedding, the special anniversary dinner. All the self-conscious, we-must-have-fun moments. All destined to end in tears.

We crumble under the pressure of knowing that we are expected to have a good time. The expectation of it all exhausts us. Secretly, we are glad when it’s over and we can go home, put on something comfy and have a cup of tea and a biscuit.

And the biggest “quality time” event of all is looming over us now.

With every passing year, the weight of Christmas expectation grows more crushing. It isn’t enough just to be together anymore, relaxed and accepting of each others foibles, eccentricities, and grumpiness.

We can’t slap a paper hat on the oldies and park them in the corner until it’s over, we can’t yell at the kids and tell them to disappear into the other room to play on the computer, we can’t have a row with our husband about why the turkey should be carved in the kitchen, and not on the dining table with an electric knife, festively festooning everyone with sprayed turkey bits.

We can’t do any of that anymore because now we are meant to have huge amounts of fun because this is “quality time”.

The aim, basically, is this: should a camera be pointed at our window at any point during the day, it should capture a room full of laughter, smiles and Christmas cheer. There should be no-one asleep, no-one gazing blankly into space and, above all, no-one exchanging a cross word.

Everyone should be engaged, drawn in, enjoying their rare, marathon session of “quality time”, even if they do spend most of it wrapped round the Quality Street tin.After Christmas, there is a huge spike in divorce rates.

There is this myth that families used to be closer , and now they are not, but it’s not true. In earlier times, people would walk out the front door and never be seen again. As a matter of survival they would go to where the work was and, communication being difficult and expensive, there would be precious little of it from then on.

The fact is, the good times for families are now. There are always exceptions but in general we are more caring than we have ever been. We don’t need this nonsense about “quality time”.

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