In college, there was a place just off-campus called Archie’s, which sold 39-cent cheeseburgers. These cheeseburgers had all the virtues you would expect of a 39-cent cheeseburger, including the after-effects. One night, after a particularly gluttonous Archie’s-binge, I learned very quickly that quality is better than quantity.
This is true of so many things in life. Owning one quality pair of shoes for two years is better than owning six cheap pairs that last a few months each. One good friend is better than a hundred acquaintances. A well-made 90-minute film is so much more enjoyable than a 3-hour snooze fest that contains dialogue like “A bird may love a fish, Sir, but where will they live?”
Less is more.
I don’t think this axiom holds true for parenting, though. Quality is not necessarily better than quantity. Many times, we think we can make up for a lack of time with our kids by saying, “Well, the time we do spend with them, we make the most of it. We go to Dairy Queen. We go to the zoo. We go to Disney World.” But man cannot live on Blizzards alone. The zoo has penguins down the street from lions. Disney World is the self-proclaimed “happiest place on earth.” These places aren’t real life. Our children want four consecutive rides on the Tilt-a-Whirl, followed by Funnel Cake (please don’t reverse the order of these). Our children need (and want) consistent real-life interactions with their parents.
I am too often guilty of having this attitude:
“Dad, will you play Scrabble with me?” my son asks.
“What are you talking about? We just went to Water World in July. Can you not be happy?” I should never feel like I’ve filled my quota as a father because I’ve spent a lot of money on them. My quota as a father won’t be filled until the day I die. This thought is overwhelming at worst, but motivating at best.
When our family reminisces, without fail our kids (two of which are adults now) will talk about the vacations. We went on a cruise once. We saw the real live “Little Mermaid.” The Grand Canyon was a beautiful 3 and a half minutes of scenery-gazing (5-year-olds don’t get it). I’m glad we have those memories, but I don’t think those were necessarily the most special times. The special times were the quiet ones that involved cookie batter or bedtime stories, when there wasn’t a roller coaster in sight. Those were the times when relationships were built.
I go on walks with my kids every night. It’s primarily for exercise, because without it, we would spend our days atrophying in front of our electronic devices. But it’s also a time to just talk with them. They ALWAYS complain when I say it’s time for the walk, and I know that the walks will never come up one day when we are reminiscing about our best family moments, but it was on these walks where I learned that my daughter wanted to work with kids for a career. I learned that no one in the family likes my chili. It was on these walks where I learned that my son had a crush on a girl in his class named Katie who wore bows in her hair and was about four feet taller than him. And on the morning of my oldest daughter’s wedding, she asked if we could go on a walk. We talked about her future.
There’s nothing wrong with Dairy Queen or the zoo or Disney. Those are precious opportunities to make memories that will last forever. The problem comes when we think that the activity that makes the most dramatic impact will substitute for the activities that will make the most lasting one. It’s not that quantity is better than quality, it’s that quantity is quality.
Unless you’re taking a midnight trip to Archie’s.
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Marshal Younger has written more than 150 episodes of Focus on the Family’s audio drama “Adventures in Odyssey.” He is also the author of five produced screenplays and 13 books, including two devotionals for children. He currently lives in Spring Hill, Tennessee, with his wife and four children.