by Fudia Muhammad
“Time is the only commodity you can never get back.” Those profound words were shared by Brother Jabril Muhammad over twenty years ago with the Believers in Austin, Texas – and likely with so many others. Whenever we catch ourselves procrastinating or being frivolous with time, we can check ourselves by reflecting on those words. We are all keenly aware that time is precious since no one has been promised an infinite amount of it. The Holy Qur’an warns, “And say not of anything: I will do that tomorrow, Unless Allah please. And remember thy Lord when thou forgettest and say: Maybe my Lord will guide me to a nearer course to the right than this” (18: 23-24). So in Arabic (our original language) we say, Insha’Allah – if God wills, it will happen or God willing…I will do such and such tomorrow.
As we approach the end of each day, most parents want more time – “just a couple of more hours” we say, is all we need. In order to incorporate the way of life promoted in America, most families require that both parents forfeit time with their children in order to be available to work at a job for an unnatural amount of time each week. Parents are then sold the lie that quality time is more important than quantity time; and we gladly gobble up this deception in order to console ourselves and keep from feeling additional guilt over being more absent than present with our children.
Quality time is defined as, “time spent in giving another person one’s undivided attention in order to strengthen a relationship, especially with reference to working parents and their child or children.” According to some counselors, psychologists and parenting “experts,” quality time trumps quantity time; which is defined as, “the amount of time a parent is physically present with their child.”
We argue that unless the parent is abusive or in any way dangerous to the child; then every child actually needs more quantity time over so-called ‘quality time.’ When quality time is our primary focus, what tends to happen is that the experiences we have with our children are manufactured, not organic. We will plan 30-minutes here or an hour there. That deep conversation is planned; we plan the outing, the book readings, we plan the shopping spree, the laughter and the excitement is all planned. We consider these prearranged moments of time as being valuable and they can be; but they are also fleeting. So while the intention is to have a profound and lasting impact – most of our children cannot easily recall the details of many of those moments without the aid of pictures, videos or paraphernalia. However they can instantaneously recall whether or not their parents were present during critical periods; since feelings of neglect tend to linger.
From the perspective of a child, above all, they want our physical presence – they desire quantity time over quality time with their parents – they do not categorize or rank our time with them based on the type of activity. First and foremost the primary need of any child is to feel secure. Nothing compares to the physical presence of a parent to make a child feel instantly safe and secure. It does not matter what type of chaos may be surrounding them; a parent’s physical presence quells those fears.
Children also often equate love with time and attention. Those who were present around the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad have said that he was very attentive when children were around. It has been shared that he would stop in the middle of a meeting or dinner if a child entered the room and give his full attention to that child. It has also been reported that when his grandchildren would visit, he would kneel right on the floor and play with them. It is a beautiful image and reminder to those of us who think we are too busy. Here is a man who was given the hardest job of any man who ever lived; but in an instant, he could see the value of renegotiating the time that he knew he would never get back. He did so for the benefit of the children who came around him.
Those of us who lack quantity time with our children may try to substitute material things to express our love. While every child loves a gift, it is a brief enjoyment. The greatest thing we could ever spend on our children is our time. Quantity time is actually a quality gift. If time is the only commodity we can never get back, then there is nothing that is of higher value or quality than our time. Quantity time creates the capacity for quality moments to naturally emerge. In other words, we cannot capture genuine quality moments with any regularity, without having large quantities of time. So in essence, quantity time is quality time.
There are many other lasting benefits to quantity time with our children. According to Focus on the Family, “The more involved parents are with their children – and the word ‘more’ here is used with direct reference to the concept of quantity – the less likely they are to have social, emotional, or academic problems, use drugs or alcohol, become involved in crime, or engage in premarital sex.” The nature of a child is to explore and to be curious. But the presence of any authority figure is going to reduce and can even eliminate attempts at harmful experimentation by our children. Also, the more time we spend with our children, the more we get to know them. There are countless examples that prove that giving birth to someone and living with them does not mean we fully know them. In addition, quantity time allows children to enjoy their childhood and not compel them to grow up too soon.
While the details of the basketball game, recital, science fair, or fieldtrips may be fuzzy – our children will remember if we were available; not just for the special events, but every time they needed us. It’s no wonder why long distance relationships fail. A special moment here and there can never compare with the connection and bond that is created through everyday activities and spontaneous interactions.
We are taught that every human need is a human right. Children not only need affection from parents, but they need validation. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said that no matter what the child does, children desire validation from their parents and those who mean most to it. The Minister has warned us about being too busy that we neglect our children, “When we do not get sufficient attention as a child, we act in a manner to get attention and sometimes this results in anti-social conduct or behavior. When the need for attention and validation is not supplied in the home or in the school, and we find that we have a gift or talent, that sets us apart and gives us attention, we have a tendency to focus on that talent and give all of our time to the talent, gift, or profession because it has given us the attention, acceptance and validation that we missed coming up as children.”
Ultimately, children need both quality and quantity time with their parents. But perhaps our definition of quality time needs to meet a higher standard so we will not settle for staged snapshots, but will meet the expectation and right of our children to know that their parents see the value in spending much of their time with them. Not only do children want us to be present (quantity), but as the Minister said, “The child wants to know that we are aware of its presence” (quality).
(Sister Fudia Muhammad is a member of Muhammad Mosque No. 64 in Austin, Texas. She is married to Student Minister Robert L. Muhammad and they have been blessed with four children. Sister Fudia holds a Master’s degree in Education – she is a writer, an educator and an advocate for God-centered child-rearing.)