As we become more connected to our smartphones and other devices, there's an increasing sense of disconnection and loneliness that pervades our lives. While we may expect this feeling with acquaintances such as neighbors and colleagues, we need to start placing limits on just how much technology-induced isolation we are willing to put up with.
Specifically, when the loneliness descends into our family lives, it's time to take action. And this is especially true in our roles as parents. Children need us, above all else, to be present and available. They need to know that they can come to us with difficult feelings, and that there is space in the day for us to listen fully.
Because we live in an age when "being busy" is not only culturally sanctioned but applauded, many of us tend to go about living our lives at technological speed instead of slowing down into organic time. And even though kids are growing up inundated with technology, they're ultimately still connected to nature's time; they need us to slow down and set a good rhythm.
I know how challenging it is. Between working full-time, home schooling my kids, cooking, attending to my marriage as well as my own well-being, I'm just as busy as the next mom. But I have found that there are some simple actions that help my family members stay connected to each other, and hopefully, they'll resonate with you, too.
1. Make one-on-one time a priority.
While family time is essential, most kids also crave and need individual time with each parent. This focused time will allow you to tune into the special way that your child is wired, and invite him or her to behave totally authentically, without the influence of siblings or another parent. Just as the garden of marriage needs private time in order to keep the soil nourished, kids need private time with parents to feel deeply seen and heard.
2. Listen to their inner thoughts and feelings.
Spending private time together is the ideal time to ask your child about what's happening inside their head and heart. Many kids, especially highly sensitive ones, will guard their inner world until explicitly asked about it. If you consistently spend private, quality time with your child, he or she will feel safe enough to share the thoughts and feelings that are inevitably swirling in their inner landscape.
3. Develop a gratitude practice.
As adults, we now know how important and powerful it is to tap into our feelings of gratitude on a daily basis. This same practice applies to children as well, and can help them develop an optimistic attitude early on in life. Many religious prayers are focused on gratitude; but even if you're not religious, you can incorporate this practice into the beginning or end of your child's day.
4. Have one meal a day together.
In times past, families used to eat all three meals together. Now, we're lucky if we all manage to sit down at the same time for one meal every few days.
But meals together have been shown to nurture connection between family members, as it's a sacred time when you can drop everything else, perhaps say a short blessing of gratitude, and talk about the day ahead (if it's breakfast) or the day that has passed (if it's dinner). This can also be a wonderful time to share stories from your own childhood, tell jokes or play a game. It's time to focus on the present moment and experience the pleasures of good food and good company as a family.
5. Commit to screen-free meals.
Of course, bringing your phone to meals defeats the purpose of eating meals together completely. Plus, if you don't want to set up the expectation that your kids can bring their gadgets to the table, then you can't do it, either!
The habit begins now, and if you've already created a habit that screens at the table are acceptable, experiment with leaving them in another room for a week during meal times. Notice if you feel more connected to each other (I bet you will!).
6. Lie down at night next to your kids.
For me, this is some of the sweetest time with my kids. The day is over, they're bathed and fresh and well-fed, and there's a deep exhale that occurs as we let everything go and snuggle up. This can be time to rub your child's back or feet, thereby staying connecting physically, or to ask about their day and connect emotionally. For kids, there's nothing as comforting as having a trusted parent there as they walk toward the threshold of sleep, which, for many kids, can be a vulnerable time. This can also be a wonderful time to establish a gratitude practice.
7. Plan short but frequent vacations.
There's nothing like leaving home behind to help you drop down into a slower rhythm. Even if you plan a "staycation," it's nearly impossible to ignore that one pile of laundry or the one stack of bills. But if you go away, you leave behind the piles and stacks and endless to-do lists, which naturally allows you to be more present with your kids. It doesn't have to be a long vacation; even one or two nights can help your family recalibrate, connect and remind you of what's most important in life.
8. Leave your gadgets at home from time to time.
It's hard to imagine that just a few years ago we all survived just fine without our phones, laptops and iPads. Now, if you were to leave the house (or even the room) without your trusty little screen in place you would feel like you had left an essential limb behind. And yet we all know that screens keep us disconnected and distracted.
If you're not checking for new emails, you're checking for texts or sending texts. If you have kids, you've probably had the experience of them saying, "Get off your phone!" to you during family time. Instead of sibling rivalry (or in addition to it), kids of this generation are asked to contend with phone rivalry. So the simplest solution is to leave your phone at home. You'll see how much mental energy it frees up, and how much easier it is to be completely present with your kids without the constant pull of the screen.