By Dave Holmes
The Big Picture
Most of us have probably pointed and laughed (discreetly) at that table of four in the restaurant: four people out to eat with each other, not speaking with each other but rather with their heads down, looking at their phones.
It’s likely that we’ve had a moment or two of anger at our spouse, or friend, for checking their e-mail when we thought they SHOULD have been paying attention to US. A friend even calls her husband’s Blackberry “the mistress.”
Oh, and if the truth be told, we have also all probably BEEN one of those four at table, or the one distracted by that beep or blinking light. (Squirrel!)
In a conversation this past week, I heard someone describe a situation that is probably not unusual. It’s bath time, and while the child is playing in the bath, Mom or Dad is sitting on the toilet seat, surreptitiously checking e-mail on their phone. Not ignoring the child, mind you – just multitasking.
Multitasking is probably not an asset in a loving relationship. I may be insecure, but any time my beloved turns part of her attention away from me in a conversation or interaction, I find myself asking, “is that phone/TV/magazine/Facebook story more important to her than I am?” I suspect our kids feel the same way. On the other hand, our full attention can be a gift – a gift to a child’s self-esteem and sense of worth. Part of spirituality, surely, is being “present” to what we do and to the ones with whom we share our moments. What is the relational and developmental effect, do you think, of our full attention, as compared to our divided attention?
I read in a book recently (Our Kids, by Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, pp. 109 to 117 and following) that parental attention is tremendously important to a child’s development, particularly in early childhood. Parental attention even affects physical brain development; our brains form in relation to the world and the people around us. Those “serve and return” interactions (like peek-a-boo, and the common interactions with babies in which the baby’s actions affect the adult’s reactions and vice versa) are not only building relationships – they are building children’s brains, with effects that last throughout life.
I don’t say this to induce guilt. Parenting is tough, and I do remember what it’s like to be overrun with tasks and responsibilities. None of us is “present” all the time. We can’t be. What I am saying is that our undivided attention is a very valuable gift. In any relationship, and especially our relationship with our kids, we need to have times, important times, when we put away our phone and give our full attention to those we love.
A Jewish friend has what he calls a “Sabbath box.” At the beginning of Sabbath, he puts in the box those things that represent work for him – his keys, his cell phone, and his watch. Putting those things away allows him to be free, present, and “off” during the Sabbath day.
The practice I’m suggesting today is for family time. At some point in each day, put away your phone, turn off the TV, put aside any distractions and simply BE with your family. The evening meal is a great time to do this, but you might also do this around bedtime, or for an evening each week to play family games, or… Older children can also take leadership for family time, to decide what they’d like to do when they have your full attention.
What about you? Any ideas for family time that have worked in your family?
Head over to our private Facebook group and let me know.
I haven’t had time to look deeply at this site, but it seems a great source of articles about parenting. I had trouble getting to the main page; hopefully that’s a temporary problem. It’s Professional Parenting Canada: www.professionalparenting.ca