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Instant Communication and Cellular Phones Challenge Family Life.

© Catherine Ripplinger Fenwick

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 life. Parents are busier than ever. This report says that 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 up a hectic pace, we are bombarded with seemingly non-stop interruptions.

I was a full time student at University when my four children were young. We kept a pretty tight schedule. One evening, my 11 year old daughter organized a special birthday dinner for me. She engaged the other children to help with the cooking, decorating, table setting and serving. They did a super job, even made the birthday cake from scratch.

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 had become 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. This is what we call the good life!

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 healthy families people show appreciation for one another, spend time together, communicate effectively, deal with crises in a positive way, and are committed to each other. Playing together helps to build these characteristics. I always say, "The family that plays together stays together.

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. For the sake of the children, and yourself, turn off those cel phones once in a while.

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. Think about ways you can maximize the quality and quantity of time you spend with your family.


Cathy Fenwick is a therapist, author and educator. She develops and delivers workshops and keynotes on how to get more healthy humour into your life.

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