I am a product of mid-Century America. Gadgets, gizmos, and the latest appliances are a part of our culture. While all of these trappings have shaved minutes from a busy family schedule and provided entertainment without leaving your home, there's little doubt that interpersonal interactions have suffered. Even with the title of "Gadget Queen," lovingly given to me by my family, I recognize that while we've taken big steps forward, we have also left something valuable behind.
When I was young, we did not own an automated dishwasher. I remember regular, engaging conversations with my five-foot tall, Italian grandmother, adorned in her one-size-fits-all, bright yellow rubber gloves. In an oversized apron, I dried what seemed like mountains of pots, pans and silverware each week. I never complained; the task gave us a chance to bond. Our conversations were peppered with her questions about my friends, grades, and music but never in a prying or critical manner. She spoke words woven with love, and her interest in my nine-year-old world was genuine.
Through the years, our chatter turned to college dreams, my artwork, boys, and favorite movie stars. While she was gently quizzing me, I was learning so much more about her. Those treasured memories are etched on my heart, especially since her passing.
Decades later, I have four grown children of my own. I see how our modern conveniences can bless us yet can rob us of time together, if we aren't careful. While I am not eager to abandon my beloved appliances and electronic devices, here are some thoughts that might help.
Take off the headphones
Pull out the plugs on music, cell phones, or any other gadgets. Parents and children need to have prudent time restraints, particularly when driving together from point A to point B. Never allow electronic devices at mealtime.
Ask genuine questions
The best conversations start off with positive inquiries. How was your day? How did that test go? Should we check out some movies together for the weekend?
Dine together around the table
Making family mealtime a top evening priority is a golden opportunity. Good conversation can turn even the simplest meal into a feast.
Don't let your family members abandon kitchen duties
Sharing the tasks builds teamwork, plus dividing and conquering allows everyone to prepare for the next day and might provide evening downtime. Younger children can help with setting a table and clearing.
Have an electronic curfew
One for school nights and another for weekends. Sleep patterns suffer if electronic gadgets aren't squelched early in the evening.
Select a book that's appropriate for the entire gang and read out loud. Even 15 minutes a night will make a difference. It's a perfect substitute for another evening around the flat screen.
In the last decade, medical reports have shown that deliberate family interactions strengthen homes, teach manners and social skills to children, build long-lasting relationships, and steer our family members away from depression, loneliness, substance addictions, and gangs.
Fortifying family relationships remain timeless. The best family relationships come with good old-fashioned communication and delving a little deeper than superficial greetings and trite conversations with those living under the same roof. It takes work, patience, discipline and creativity.
But the rewards - stronger, healthier, and happier families - are more than worth the effort.