It seems like it's the first question asked or the first piece of advice given whenever marriage comes up. "How often do you go on dates with your spouse?" Sometimes the dating language is used with the kids as well, but more often we speak in terms of "quality time," by which is meant one-on-one time or some activity done with the child that is particularly appreciated.
I'm beginning to wonder if this focus on specialness or quality time is beneficial though. What happens when the special becomes commonplace and we have to reach for ever greater heights to achieve the same specialness? But more importantly, what happens to everyday life? Do we begin "living for the weekend" in our marriages? With the focus on the "quality time"it becomes easy to turn it into a checklist item: something you need to check off before you check out.
I first noticed this trend toward specialness back when I was in college. There was a difference between the people who wanted to hang out when we were going to do something cool, and those who would hang out even if we had no agenda other than hanging out. For these people it wasn't an activity they were wanting to enjoy, it was us.
I think the biggest issue though is that this focus on "dating"or "quality time" hides from us what is truly important. It puts the priority on doing instead of being and we miss the everyday mundane. The boring everyday things are what form us: our character and soul. It's also what has the biggest impact on those around us. A good marriage isn't formed around a date twice a month (or once a week as I've heard some people advocate), it's formed around the love, joy and peace that is exhibited everyday in the small things.
It would be a shame to have my wife look back and have the memory of some fantastic dates but be cringing away from the memories of how inconsiderate I was the rest of the time. Similarly, I would hate for my kids to have a few fond memories of some special times, but the remembrance would a single highlight of a good time with a father who was generally impatient and uninterested. Far better to to have them look back and be unable to pick out a single special event, but they remember a husband and father who was kind, gentle, and caring.
P.S. : I also think that this has implications for those of us who are religious. The language we tend to use is "quiet time" and the activity of attending church services or classes. We tend not to live interactively with God in the mundane everyday-ness of our lives.