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Everyday Moments: Finding Quality Time in Working Families

Tamar Kremer-Sadlik


Amy Paugh

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 32


In American society, one often hears of the need to find and set aside "quality time" (also "family time") to enhance and maintain family well-being. It is presumed that this time --conceived of as concentrated, unstressed, and uninterrupted -- should make up in quality for what may be missed in quantity. The popular media encourages parents to make time for quality time, and offers strategies for creating it, such as through special outings or family nights. However, this may engender feelings of guilt among busy working parents for not finding enough family time, or when their efforts at creating quality time seem unsuccessful and "forced." This paper explores the notion of quality time, and challenges the prevalent idea that such moments are primarily achieved through blocks of time set aside and dedicated to special family activities. Rather, it suggests that everyday, unplanned, unstructured moments of social interaction offer family members opportunities for reinforcing their sense of togetherness and well-being. It further explores how quality moments are often experienced by a sub-set of a family (e.g. a mother and son, or a father and daughter) and that such moments, though not shared by the whole family, help reinforce the sense of family unity and togetherness. Using interviews with parents and ethnographic video recordings of a week in the lives of 30 dual-earner families in Los Angeles, the paper examines how everyday social interaction affords quality moments shared by family members. While individual family styles vary, we find that quality moments occur regularly in the course of everyday activities and routines involving parents and children (for example, while doing household chores or waiting at the car wash). Though perhaps not considered "quality time" in its popular sense, these opportunities serve to enhance relationships and foster a sense of family identity and belonging among family members.

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