An Exhausted Mother’s Guide To Spending ‘Quality Time’ With Kids

Do you spend quality time with your kid? Be honest. And what does it entail? I haven’t a clue.

I asked my mom and she gave me the same kind of blank stare she gives me when I wish her happy mother’s day (Last time she didn’t even look my way and just said “What?Again? How many times in a year do you have this Mother day- Shudder Day?”). That right there should say something about my parenting skills or lack thereof. Nevertheless, I was convinced that I could boldly go where no man or woman in my family has gone before a.k.a the land of quality time with the offspring.

I decided to ask my closest friends. Turns out, none of them have children. Not one. They encouraged me to ask elsewhere as I saw a snigger pass between them, like they’ve cracked some mystery that I haven’t. Oh well!

I asked an acquaintance, an author of some renown.The kind with dark kohl rimmed eyes and shiny long hair she ties in a loose bun that comes undone at every emphatic nod in her otherwise sing song voice. The kind who always pauses thoughtfully after listening to your question. She doesn’t ask people questions, she “engages” with the masses. We were at a restaurant once and I asked her what she’d like to eat. Then I took a nap while she asked the waiter relevant socio-economic questions, before ordering black coffee. (I ate a bowl of pasta with extra cheese because for once I was eating at a restaurant without a child pulling at my fork midway to my mouth…but I digress!). My intelligent acquaintance threw her head back and laughed mellifluously when I asked her how she “engages” in quality time with her little one. “Why? Its baking of course! Schona and I bake every other day. Ah, the act of throwing all the ingredients together and the smell…ooof!” . Her eyes were closed, she was smelling the warm cake. I picked up my things and sneaked out leaving her mid- memory. On the way home, I googled “Recipes for Cakes”, then “Recipes for simple cakes”, then “Cakes for Dummies”.

As soon as I got home, I announced to the daughter that I was..nay..WE were going to bake a cake. Her expression did not change for a minute. Then she said with a pout, ” But I don’t know how to. So you make the cake and I will watch.”

“No. No. We have to spend some quality time. So WE (I let my index finger fly between her and me) will bake a cake.”

The rest of the afternoon is a blurr of flour. By the end of it, we had arguments over measurements, the kitchen counter looked like a battlefield where spoons and whisks were left dying in puddles of chocolate sauce and flies descended on the innards of bananas. We were so exhausted that we decided to call it quits until the oven dinged, which we totally missed because by then we were busy playing fake scrabble and eating Parle-G with peanut butter.

It was a lesson in two things. One, I hate cooking that requires precision measurement. Two, my daughter takes after me.

Since then I’ve tried other “Quality Time” tricks like doing art & craft projects together (We don’t have what it takes to watch paint dry), gardening together ( This almost worked until we ran out of balcony) and shopping together (We both start out pretending we like it but Malls exhaust us. Especially towards the end when we walk around for miles in circles trying to find our car in the parking lot)

One day, around mid-morning, all chores done, I plopped down on the bed next to the kid. “What shall we do to…?”. And before I could finish the sentence, she pleaded, “Can we just…not do anything.” I have to admit, I was relieved. Quality time is a heck lot of work. In a recent study, scientists have found that mothers who work a heck of a lot, grey faster and die sooner (Ok. There’s no official study YET but…). As we lie there on the bed staring at the ceiling, we say nothing. Then she turns around to hug me, and nuzzles her head into my armpit. We lie there for about five minutes before she’s had enough and wants to go find something else to do.

Truth be told, I am the sort of person who willingly sacrifices a little (teeny tiny) amount of quality if the deal is good. Like buying slightly cheaper nail paint (because I am going to only put it on my toes anyways). This lolling about in bed sounds like a very good deal to me. We do nothing. Its oddly satisfying. And it cost only five minutes!

The best times are had not necessarily during the allocated “Quality Time”, but somewhere in its neighborhood. In the little gaps between photo worthy moments, between anticipation and frustration, nestled in lazy companionship on yawn inducing afternoons. They are also low investment in terms of time but just as big, if not bigger on rewards.

I think I am a happy cheapskate.

(Also published on The Huffington Post)