We need to spend more junk time with our kids
Quality time is simply too overrated
Junk time. It’s not something we often talk about when it comes to parenting and raising kids. We tend to hear only about the quality time but no one ever talks about junk time — the time in between that often exists in repetitive pockets like making breakfast, school pickups and kid friendly shows on Friday nights.
It is these things that make up most the memories of our childhood and the thing that built us into the person that we are today. Sure, some families might have the annual camping trip or orchestrated candid moments but they only serve a small portion in the grand scheme of one’s childhood days.
It’s the same for our kids. As they compete for our attention against work and technology, big bang styled “quality time” becomes the go-to for making up for lost time.
Why junk time matters
Our lives consists of a series of seconds strung together in a linear way to form our days. They are the routines, the meals we eat and the things we do. Our children are more than just observers. They are active participants in learning how the world works from us.
The amount of actual time you spend with your kids should not be limited to just a special occasion or particular day. Sometimes they just need someone physically there with them with enough mental awareness while they do their own thing — or partially participate in whatever it is we’re doing.
According to psychologists Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby, attachment and psychological construction of the self in childhood is not a one off event but a series of consistent event that helps reinforce their interpretation of the world. This interpretation is important because it sets the foundation on self esteem and how they will fare in future relationships as adults.
Junk time facilitates this construction but it is often eroded away through our constant preoccupation with other things like work and our phones — then we make up for us through bursts of unsustainable ‘quality time’.
What, exactly, is junk time?
Junk time is the time in between where we momentarily meet up with our children to do the necessary tasks. It might last 5 minutes. It might last 10. Sometimes, it can go on for 30 minutes, depending on the task. It’s the routines, random moments and boring bits like sitting on the couch, eating dinner together from takeaway containers and night time cereal feasts together when you both know you shouldn’t be.
These moments are not wasted time. Rather, it’s time you and your child spend together in pockets when you’re both not mentally busy and focusing on a particular task together. Over the course of the day, these moments adds up to make the picture of a complete day.
For the parent, it’s about being present. For the child, it’s about having a parent there who may be doing something but for the benefit of the child. It’s the act of feeding, clothing, telling stories and everything else in between.
A trip to Disneyland may seem major and dramatic but it cannot compare on a quantity basis when the minutes are all added up together. This is because a child’s character, resilience, personality and how they interact and react to the world is not built in a day or a week.
The art of quality lazy parenting
Being too present in your children’s lives can result in helicopter parenting. Being too absent can result in emotional neglect. Lazy parenting is the middle ground between too much and too little — something that sits in middle where you, as a parent, makes the decision not to provide constant entertainment, intervention and guidance over our children’s every waking moment.
The word lazy often reflects badly on the entire idea of lazy parenting due to what it’s often associated with. However, lazy parenting is often harder than expected as you are teaching them how to be independent by purposefully breading supervised boredom so they’re forced to be self sufficient through imagination and play. It’s the act of fending of whinges, complaints and constant pleading for a screen based devices.
Unfortunately, you’ll also need to lead by example and get off your screens too. You’ll need to do adult things in their presence like folding laundry, hand wash the dishes and meal prep while they figure out how to spend their time.
Junk time occurs when you’re both doing something, sometimes together, sometimes not but always within the physical presence of each other — give or take the proximity of walls. It’s not about ignoring your kids but being there for them when they need something trivial — because what may seem trivial to you is actually rather major to them. The same goes for when you require their assistance and compliance on things that are major to you but trivial to them.
What it means to be a parent
Parenting is hard. While my number of years is not that much but I do have a resident toddler and I am a bonus mom to her older half-brother. Being a parent is more than just having a genetic connection to the child but also being there for them on a physical and emotional level when they require it.
It’s not about pushing yourself onto them, or carting them through a dozen extra curricular activities to keep them occupied. It’s not about the outings or the holidays but rather it’s about those moments where you’re there to hit them up for their bad behavior and catch them when they fall. It’s about being present and aware.
Junk time facilitates all this and a lot more. You don’t need special days to make up for time because with junk time, every little pocket of moment you have with your children is special. The cumulative effect of junk time on the psychological development and child’s perception your nurturing vs a once off yearly occurrence quality time is much bigger. With junk time, these moments compound. With quality time, it’s like a lump sum deposit into an empty account each time.
Sometimes I feel like I’m a bad parent for doing the dishes all the time. Sometimes, I feel like I should spoil my children with outings and gifts. But I don’t.
Instead, I give them the novelty of having dinner picnics on the living room floor or let the toddler bang out a discorded tune on the keyboard. I let them draw, sing, dance and maybe join them on occasions. But most of the time, I just ‘hang out’ with them while they do their own thing and I do mine. It’s how we spend out junk time together.
Junk time is about being consistently there and not just on a particular planned date — but always present, to build up that intrinsic trust that you’ll always be there if you’re ever needed without the helicoptering. It’s a passive yet active presence that allows you to do adult things and momentarily pause as needed to be with your children.