June 17, 2010

LKL Web Exclusive: Sally Quinn on the importance of parenting

Posted: 10:51 AM ET

By Sally Quinn, Washington Post columnist and co-moderator of "On Faith."  Quinn is married to former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, and they have one son together.

So often we hear people say how important it is to spend “quality” of time with our children. I couldn’t agree more. But I think equally important is the “quantity” of time as well. In today’s world where mothers and fathers both work and where everyone seems to be stressed out and overextended, parents are spending less and less time with their children. And those children are left to their own devices (staring at some sort of screen.)

It’s hard to criticize these harassed parents who clearly love their children and want to do right by them.

I might well have been one of these mothers had my son Quinn Bradlee (my husband is Ben Bradlee) not been born with a heart defect, many other medical problems and serious learning disabilities. I was lucky I had the luxury of staying home and taking care of him. He was sick, sometimes critically so, for years. There were many parents at Children’s Hospital in Washington, where Quinn spent so much of his early life, who weren’t as fortunate. Often they were single parents who lived far away, had full time jobs, had other children at home, were the sole breadwinners and had no support from friends or families. I often wondered how they did it. Their plight certainly kept me from feeling sorry for myself.

Sometimes I wonder too, if Quinn had not been so sick and had so many problems, if we would have been the kind of parents we wanted to be. Would we have spent the kind of time with him that we did, that eventually shaped his life and gave him the confidence to be someone who believed he could conquer anything? Certainly the fact that we were older played a role in our circumstances. Ben was sixty and I was forty when he was born. Both of us were established in our careers and Ben had more time to devote to raising a child than he had ever had before. However, he had never had a sick child and I worried at first that he might not take an interest in his new son who was unable to do so many things that other children could do. Men are generally not as good with babies as women are and Ben was no different.

We had a primitive log cabin in the woods in West Virginia and we began taking Quinn there when his health improved. At first I was stuck in the cabin with him but as Quinn grew into a toddler Ben began to take him out in the woods where he would spend hours each day, “emptying his mind”, clearing brush and cutting down trees.

Quinn adored being with his father and soon the two of them would disappear into the woods together.

Later, we bought a house on a river near the Chesapeake which was surrounded by woods. It was there that the two of them began to really bond. They would ride the jeep and tractor and finally, against my wishes, Ben taught him how to use a chain saw. Often, they would spend the time in silence, just working together, doing their projects. As is the case with so many learning disabled kids, Quinn had few friends. We became his best friends. The three of us would spend every weekend together in the country.

In the evenings we would watch the news together, sit at the dinner table, always by candle light and talk about what we had learned. We talked about life, things that interested Quinn and us. Those times were sacred. No tv, no phones, nothing. Just us. I really believe that the time we both shared with Quinn was the most valuable thing we could have done for him. He and Ben have the closest relationship I have ever seen in a father and son. It is taken for granted that mothers will be the primary caretaker of their children. But the father son relationship is so precious and so meaningful that every woman who has a son should do everything she can to encourage her husband to make the commitment of time, quantity time, with his boy. The rewards are enormous, and probably more so for the father than the son. Certainly Ben will tell you that. His life has been so enriched by his relationship with Quinn, for no more complicated reason that he was always there for him.

Filed under: Ben Bradlee • LKL Web Exclusive • Sally Quinn

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Jessie from Auckland, NZ   June 18th, 2010 5:39 am ET

What a great story.

Yes, parenting is always very challenging and more so nowadays. With more households requiring both parents to work and single parents, it can become quite a juggling act and stressful.

God bless all the parents.

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