A few days back, I was reconnecting with an old friend, and we were sharing our experiences being a working parent. At one point she said that the time between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on a weeknight is sacred quality time with her kids. She doesn’t do household chores during that time, and dinner is always take out.

I work full-time outside the house, which means I spend less time with my kids had I chosen not to work. So – no surprises here – I think a fair bit about quality time with my kids.

I paused to think about what constitutes quality time “with” my kids? How is that different from quality time “around” my kids? How about quality parenting time “without” my kids, and then finally, quality personal time with “myself” without the kids? How does all of this impact my relationship with my children and how I choose to parent?

On one end of the spectrum is time when I am fully present with my children, giving my undivided attending to their needs, creating memories, and hopefully having fun. If not, we’re at least learning about and from each other. Typically, this happens in bed with a lot of reading, snuggles, meditation, tight hugs, and kisses.

Then there are times when we melt wax crayons and make a birthday card for a friend, or play in the bathtub with play dough bubble bath (our new indulgence).

If I’m more compassionate with myself and include the time we spend together, even though it’s somewhat distracted, a lot of good stuff happens on weeknight evenings. There are trips to the farmers market, parks, grocery stores (which my toddler absolutely loves), and the library. We visit friends and have friends over. We cook and make art.

Yet I have to confess that I wouldn’t always call evenings with my children “quality time” per the definition above. Often, I’ll be cooking dinner while also doing an art project, running from the cooking area to the living area. Or my son sits on the counter top while we make homemade play dough and pasta at the same time, and my attention is torn between his project and dinner.

I also often exercise with him around, so once again, my attention is split between my plank and his trip to the toilet. Am I always fully present, every time I speak with him or measure the cups of flour going into the banana bread? No.

How do I account for the time when I’m not with my kids, but spending my time in a way that strengthens my relationship with them, directly or indirectly? Meditation, for example, has helped me stay a lot more present and increased my self-awareness as a parent. How about the dozens of parenting books I’ve read that have a tremendous impact on the way I parent?

At the far extreme of the spectrum, there are times when my children are not in the picture directly (though they never disappear, even when I try not to think about them): time at work, time alone with my husband and close friends, time spent writing, exercising, or going on retreats. This time is incredibly meaningful and consciously spent in alignment with my values.

When I stitch together all of these pieces, I see a mosaic where each piece has its own beauty and its own value. Even though the word “balanced” has become a cliché, I truly believe it’s about being aware of what’s needed in each moment to fill up our hearts, our souls, and other needs at any given time.

Sometimes, I need to dial up the exclusive time with my kids and take a day off from work. Some days, I need to work longer hours and say no to exercise and a home cooked meal. There are times when being away from my kids to nurture my quiet self is actually more beneficial to our relationship than spending 30 additional minutes, but feeling depleted.

Also very important in my “quality time” is the quality of my presence, my choice of words, and my mindset – how I choose to model living for my kids, whether I’m with them or not. How do I talk about work, spirituality, exercise, relationships, community service?

Every evening, whether I’m exclusively with my kids or around them, I make it a priority not to yell or lose my temper (at them or at my husband, which is harder for me). I do my best to keep my phone away for the limited hours we have each evening. I want to model empathy, kindness, and compassion in how we spend our time together. I want to model taking care of ourselves, investing in people who matter, and giving back in the world, even though that may mean doing one less Lego project together.

I choose to not be friends with guilt, remorse, and overthinking. I instead try to strengthen my friendship with awareness, compassion, and balance to live a full, rich, wholesome life – independently and as part of a family.

How do you think about quality time with your kids? Please share your comments below.