In the center of my office wall, just above my desk, I have a cleverly carved picture frame with 15 or so picture spots. Each picture is some type of what I consider an “action shot.” They range from camping and beach outings, to Disneyland adventures and cutting down Christmas trees. In these pictures no
one matches, someone has their eyes closed, the hair is a mess, and everyone looks like they’re having a great time. Surrounding this collage of memories are four other picture frames each with a different year’s “Family Portrait.” Each picture was carefully planned out and painstakingly produced. All of the clothing matches, everyone’s hair looks great, we are all looking in the same direction, all the eyes are open, and we are all smiling. If you are a parent, you know that none of those things is actually normal for a family of eight.
I’ve always hated taking family portraits. Dressing in “themed” clothing, driving somewhere unfamiliar, positioning ourselves into totally unnatural poses, to get one picture where everyone looks just right. It drives me crazy! On the other hand, my wife has
never loved being in action shots. Either she wasn’t looking, her hair wasn’t quite right, there was something strange with her smile, or the camera angle gave her a desire to diet. However, now that we are a little older, and our children are quickly growing up, we are so grateful that we took the time to take “Family Portraits,” and that we have built up such a wonderful treasury of “action shots.”
One day as I sat looking at the pictures on my wall, I realized that parenting is very similar to these two types of photos. Sometimes we will hear a parent say, “I spend quality time with my child.” I applaud these parents. Their efforts to prepare and produce significant events in the lives of their children should be emulated. They work with the end in mind. They have specific goals and training that they want their children to accomplish and learn. They drive their children to lessons, have scheduled reading time, and enroll them in the summer science camp. As the word “painstaking” suggests, they have ‘taken’ great ‘pains’ to ensure they create these opportunities for their children. These “Family Portrait” experiences create strong foundations for children.
On the other hand, we all know a parent who seems to be at everything their child does. Through Herculean effort I am sure, these parents are at every school and community event. We sometimes resent them because they make the rest of us feel guilty when our schedules won’t permit us to “be everywhere.” However, there is something great we can learn from their efforts—the “quantity” of time we spend with our children is also important. Quantity time isn’t just attending every event, it is also spending free time with our children doing unscheduled and unrushed activities. It is being there to answer their questions, or listen their stories, or to kiss away the pain of their scrapes and scratches. Some teaching opportunities come in the moment and cannot be put-off, scheduled, or scripted. As one teacher said, “you need to feed the children when they are hungry.” This quantity time helps us to know our children, their needs, desires, and challenges because we are present and participating. When the action is happening you’ll want to be there with your camera ready.
So which is the better type of parenting? Of course, the best parenting incorporates both the family portrait and the action shot. We should strive to plan “quality time” for our children’s development. Some lessons and experiences will take deliberate “portrait type” planning. Not everything needed to raise happy and productive children will just “come-up” in our everyday experiences. Then again, you never know when an unforgettable teaching, building, or bonding moment will arise. For these, you must strike while the iron is hot. The parent who is present and participating will have pictures full of additional opportunities to help shape and strengthen their children.
I was reminded of the importance of these two types of parenting, as I spoke with a very successful single mother of two grown sons. She was left to raise her boys when they were still very young. She told me that early on she made some deliberate plans for their development. She knew the type of men she wanted her sons to become and did everything she could to give them the experiences and opportunities that would aid in their growth. “However,” she said to me, “perhaps most importantly, they knew I was there for them. When one of my son would step up to the plate with his bat in hand, he would tap it on the plate, adjust his hat, and then look back into the stands to make sure I was there.”
Meeting with hundreds of parents yearly for over two decades, I have learned that this blended type of parenting is very successful. It would be a beneficial exercise for every parent to sit down and look at the photos on their parenting wall. Do they have the portraits? Are their enough unscheduled action shots? We should all have some specific goals, plans, programs, and activities for our children. Creating the quality environment can lead to wonderful learning. Add to those experiences, large quantities of time. Be ready to talk, teach, and train when the opportunity arises. It has been my experience that the parent who does this, even though there are time constraints, fills their walls with plenty of portraits and an abundance of action shots. They also fill their lives with happy and successful children.