Let's set the scene, the one you and I - and especially recently divorced parents - fear.
Your child, now grown, goes to a shrink; walks into the office, sits, hands folded in his lap, and talks of his problems.
"About your parents," the psychiatrist asks with that meaningful look. "Did they spend a lot of time with you?"
"Yes. But no quality time," your offspring recounts.
You've been nailed. No "quality time" (QT) and now you're on the hook for every little hang-up the kid developed over the years.
Yes, folks. Quality time. Bottle it, sell it, and we'd all be rich. Quality time. It's one of those NOW phenomena some say is the key to successful, happy parenting.
Quality time. It goes thusly - it isn't the amount of time you spend with the kids, it's the quality of the time spent. A worthwhile five minutes beats a non-quality hour every time.
Quality time. It's the theory that says, "Warm Bodies" alone don't make it.
In the abstract, quality time sounds great. The painless, effortless, magical method of sharing time with your kids in short chunks rather than long stretches.
Quality time. It's tailored to the free adult, the divorced parent, the working pair, all of whom either can't, won't or don't have the time to spend with their kids, and feel guilty about it.
Quality time. No need to sign up for special classes in parenting the adult way, no need to learn a foreign tongue because all quality time takes is special time , when we give our kids something extra.
Those who believe in QT say it works.
And the working parents we talked with say they "enjoy being with their children more" when they give quality time in the evenings.
Said one couple, "We set aside 7 to 7:30 every weeknight for QT. Then we can get the kids to bed earlier, eat dinner alone, and don't feel guilty about it. It's brought the family closer together."
Several divorced parents we interviewed raved about QT.
"It's helped me communicate with my kid," says one recently divorced father.
"i may only spend one day a week with him now, but that's better than what we had before, It's quality time."
Call it quality time or special time or dedicated time and it's okay to get more from less.
And since there are enough people around who believe in QT or want to, we've developed a set of QT guidelines to assist parents in making it through the first few QT events smoothly and without guilt.
1. Any time spent in the Smithsonian museums, any of them, is quality time. Time spent in museum restrooms or cafeterias - even at the Air & Space Museum - is not quality time. And if your kids are still in strollers, walkers, backpacks or baby carriers, they're probably too young to appreciate a museum. You're there for yourself, and you can't sneak that one in as quality time.
2. Any time spent in outdoor athletic activities - especially on the Mall or at Wheaton Regional Park - is quality time. Playgrounding, kite flying, ice skating, hiking, swimming and catch are also. But it is not quality time if you well at the kids every time they drop the ball. Walking the canal is okay, but walking as a means of transportation does not count.
3. Any time spent in a library or reading books to your kids is quality time and we'd even count time spent discussing the responsibility of taking care of and returning library books as QT.
But if you park your youngsters in the children's section and head off to pick out some books of your own, that won't count.
4. Any time spent appreciating nature is quality time, especially if it involves animals - preferably living creatures. Even a visit to a pet shop can count as QT. And highest in this category are visits to the National Zoo. But you've got to see more than the pandas. It is not quality time if you yell at your kid when he lets go of the FONZ balloon, even when you told him to hang on to it. Buying him another one won't restore the QT you lost when you hollered, either. And rushing him to the new lion preserve to win a smile isn't enough.
5. Any time spent cooking or baking with children not only counts as quality time, but deserves special recognition for parental courage and patience.
There are more points, too, if you're making natural whole - wheat bread and not just gooey, sticky treats. Use of mixes or canned ingredients, however, knocks out some of the QT value.
6. Any time spent painting, coloring, working with clay, tie-dyeing, drawing or sketching is quality time. And if you let the kids do any mixing, stirring and shaking that may be required, you're not only deserving of additional QT credit, you're nuts.
7. Listening to records and dancing with your children is quality time, unless your kids are over 14. For younger children, "Peter and the Wolf" played the seventh time through is not only acceptable as QT, it qualifies you for bonus QT credit even if you wind up yelling at them.
8. Any time spent in a restaurant - unless it's a fast - food chain - is quality time. But if you make them finish the entire meal and insist that they eat their peas, it doesn't count.
9. Visiting the monuments, Mt. Vernon, Arlington National Cemetery, riding the subway and touring the city is quality time, unless you're a bus or taxi-cab driver simply dragging the kid along for the day.
10. Taking your kids to the movies, plays, concerts or a ballet is quality time. You may even count two trips to "The Nutcracker" per Christmas holt day season. There also is credit for "X" rated films if you put them down to general sex education.
11. A tour of the Botanical Gardens, the Library of Congress and the National Archives is quality time.
12. Three rides on the merry-go-round on the Mall (or Glen Echo) and a bag of popcorn is quality time. But don't make the children get on the horses if they prefer the stationery benches.
And remember, while camping and backpacking are definitely QT, painted vains and portable television sets are not.
We admit our list of QT events is not exhaustive. But it should help the quality - time novice establish guidelines. And that's half the battle.
A word of caution. What works for quality time today may not work tomorrow, especially after your children go through puberty.