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Around the Kitchen Table

Instant Communication and Cel Phones Challenge Family Life.

© Catherine Ripplinger Fenwick

Once upon a time there was..... time. Lots of it. People in families had time together. Time for family activities, dinner together, story time. Many people today report that the greatest source of distress is that they don't have enough time.

A 1994 Angus Reid poll reported that more than 50% of Canadian families say they have not achieved a good balance between work and home. Parents are busier than ever, 75% of Canadian families today need two incomes to stay above the poverty line.

Multi-tasking is the high tech term used to describe how we try to pack more and more activity into our day. In addition to keeping a hectic pace, we are bombarded with seemingly non-stop interruptions.

I was a fulltime student at University when my four children were young. We kept a pretty tight schedule. One evening, my 11 year old daughter prepared a special birthday dinner for me. She organized the other children who assisted.

We had just sat down to eat when the phone rang, "It's for you, Mom." It rang again and again, and my daughter started to cry. I was becoming so preoccupied with the darn phone that her special dinner was being ruined. Her tears gave me a shake. I took the phone off the hook, which I should have done in the first place. No phone call is worth spoiling this special time. I was smarter and more careful after that. Uninterrupted family time is vital to family and community health.

When rats in a lab are subjected to frequent interruptions, they go crazy. Symptoms of too much multitasking and brutal interruptions include: irritability, sleeping disorders, and stress related illnesses.

Why do we live this fast paced, interrupted life? Why do we allow family time to be disrupted? People are working harder and for longer hours than we did 20 years ago to make ends meet. We have come to accept interruption as a normal part of this hectic schedule. We are stretched and overbooked and are often unaware of how often we allow interruptions.

To grow up strong and healthy, children need parents who are committed to being available to them. They need time for play and laughter - they need time to just hang out together. The ability to laugh and play together are symptoms of healthy family life.

In their book, Strong Families, Nick Stinnett and John Defrain identify six characteristics of good family life. They say in strong families; people show appreciation for one another, spend time together, communicate effectively, deal with crisis in a positive way, are committed to each other, and have a strong spiritual orientation. These characteristics are necessary for healthy playfulness. Playing together in healthy ways helps to build these characteristics.

The fondest memories I have of my child rearing years are of summers spent at the lake. We had a small cottage with no telephone and no television. We had two months to play together, with few distractions. Thunderstorms were fun to watch and rainy days meant we played indoor games. We were pretty good at Hearts, Crazy 8's, Yahtzee, Rummoli, and many other games whose names I can't remember.

These days of instant communication around the world and cel phones in the back pocket are a challenge to family life. We must be very committed to a quality life and make tough decisions to sustain quality family time.

Airlines offer economy flights and more and more people are "getting away." Family trips to Disneyland are great, but not if they are a substitute for ongoing uninterrupted family time.

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