I am grateful to be living in a loving relationship with my partner, for more than ten years now. I also have a good relationship with my children–and I even count those times when they use all their creative energies to annoy us until it is unbearable, as well as those times when I am too tired to be a patient parent. In the past, I was asked several times what my “secret” was and my usual answer was work. Now a friend changed my perspective and I rather answer: it is an investment of energy. The nourishment of relationships needs energy, and most of it is time–our scarcest resource.

There is nothing more significant to give to the other than undivided attention–without having the TV on, playing or talking on the phone or preparing dinner at the same time. People respond immediately when they feel they are paid attention to: they open up, share with you things otherwise left unspoken and feel loved. It happens so rarely nowadays that everyone is very thirsty and very grateful for someone who listens.

Look at your schedule, your daily routine! Write down when you have time for each other (your spouse, your child, your parent, anyone else who is very important to you.) Observe and note how much time you spend together weekly without anything happening around you? Is that satisfactory for you? If not, what can you change?

If you are not satisfied with your findings, be ruthless and carve out those moments of undivided attention. This sometimes requires saying no to social events, to sleeping in, to bringing homework, etc. Be conscious about what you would like to happen in your life and be certain that you can change. Paying attention to your relationships needs your attention, your investment, and your energy. I regard my time with my partner and my children as blocks in my schedule, just as I do my work hours–there need to be serious reasons to move them and I only allow a certain amount of change weekly. I am quite strict about that because I immediately feel the consequences–conflicts not talked about, kids missing me, my need to talk about events during the week is not fulfilled.

Time spent with children
Many working parents use the term ‘quality time’ with regards to time spent with their children. This for me translates to time dedicated to the child when the working parent can manage to be available. I know it’s extremely hard to juggle your life and time with having work and children simultaneously on your plate (I have been working since my smaller child was one-year-old, although mostly part-time.) However, the needs of children cannot be confined to the ‘quality time’ blocked away in your schedule. My experience is that children need daily attention and time so that they don’t fall into the attention-seeking mode. The time that is in hours rather than minutes. I cannot plan to have a great conversation or laugh together, we are just together and it happens: he shares with me a conflict he had with classmates, she talks about longing for a friend she hasn’t seen for a while, or we start to play hide-and-seek in the garden spontaneously. Our life and time aren't planned ahead and divided up to ‘quality time’ and ‘non-quality time.’ Time is time, and among a throng of mundane acts and things, little pearls of miracles happen unexpectedly if I’m there, show up, put down my phone and just be there with them. (And again, I know life and work can get in the way, but change starts with you becoming aware and that doesn’t need more time.)

My time with my children on weekdays is after school; most of the time I’m picking them up. I enjoy hearing about their day, I prepare a little snack for them and have time to play or do something of their choice together before dinner. That is our sacred time together and it is well protected. I am grateful for being able to do this; at the same time, I make the most of my possibilities.

Time spent with my love
As a family of small children (and lacking handy grandparents) we needed to be creative so that my partner and I could have time to ourselves. Here are some of our examples.
• We wake up early (5 am weekdays, we need to wake the children at 7 am), and beside exercise, spiritual practice and breakfast preparation, those two hours are for each other.
• If we can manage to have someone to sit with the children, we eat out at least once a month–where we (rather I) can talk.
• We use the time spent in the car on long trips (with children watching a movie in the back) to talk about something important for both of us–we plan those instances ahead so that they do not go wasted.
• When the children used to sleep in the afternoons, we used those hours to be together as well; watch a movie, talk, play, make love. And I made sure we were not doing housework in those precious moments!

These might not work for you, but pay a little attention in your coming week of time spent together with your loved ones. Be strict and only count those times when no one else is around and it is not some sort of entertainment (movie, concert, theater, playground, or match.) Having fun together is very important as well, but I do not count them as paying undivided attention to each other. How much time did you get? Is it enough for nourishing your relationship in the long run? What can you change?

Author's Bio: 

Orsolya Hernold is the writer of orzola.org, a blog dedicated to personal growth by journaling. Orsolya offers topics with powerful questions to explore, online journaling courses, and printed journals to help readers to create the habit of journaling. Follow her by subscribing at orzola.org, on Facebook (OrzolaJournal) or on Twitter (OrzolaJournal).