Electronics and Relationships

Put down your electronic device and just look at me.

Many people think this on a daily basis. You see Dear Abby columns about it and articles from doctors telling us to put down our phones and talk to our children. It’s everywhere these days.

I come from a close family with strong connections. It is interesting to me that we were able to become a close-knit family, since our addiction was not smartphones, but television. I clearly remember our family having t.v. time every evening as we would wind down from our day. When I was small, we would all cram into the living room at 8:00 p.m. to watch sitcoms and laugh together. Then, as television sets got cheaper, and cable entered the picture, 8:00 p.m. became the time for us to separate and go our own way. At its peak, my family would have 4 different televisions going, every night. My mother would watch some news program in the kitchen, my dad and brother would watch the game in the living room, and my sisters and I would watch our shows in the basement. If we really couldn’t agree on what to watch, we would beg our mother to use the t.v. in my parent’s bedroom.

I look at my family today, and see this same pattern, just different electronics. My 16-year-old stepson is attached to his phone, my 13-year-old plays XBox, my 10-year-old stepson can’t stop staring at his iPad, my husband plays PC games and I am still on the couch watching t.v. I’m embarrassed to admit how adept my 17 month old is at using Apple devices, and even knows which way to hold an XBox controller (they do watch you do everything). Asking any one person on this list to put down their respective electronics and spend time together is met with enthusiastic eye-rolling.

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How did I let this happen!? I didn’t even have cable for years, I thought it was a waste of money! And, I didn’t buy these electronics for the kids, they were given to them as gifts.

A supermom cannot let this stand. So, strategies have been developed to get these drones to disconnect from their screen, and connect with each other. Growing up, my family always had dinner together, every night at the table, and the t.v. was not allowed. We looked at each other and spoke about our days and what was going on in the world. This is how my family’s values were passed on to us kids. It is still my greatest tool. When I find that our busy schedules have spread us apart, I check our dinner plans. Have we been eating away from the table? That’s probably why. Time to get this train back on track.

Another tool moms love to use, is game night. My 10-year-old especially loves this. When we showed him how to play Monopoly for the first time, he found he had a certain knack for winning, and therefore it has been one of his favorite things to do. The others often start the game with sarcasm and bad attitudes, but once the dice are rolled, they seem to relax and the interaction begins.

Now that we are going into autumn, there are outings to be had at the local farms, picking apples or pumpkins, navigating corn mazes and shrieking at haunted houses. No, leave your phone in the car, you will not need it. Well, maybe you’d better bring yours mom, so you can take cute pictures of your family! Ones that don’t include little faces peering into screens.

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Unhappy? Make a List

When I am faced with a problem, I do one of two things: I Google it and make lists. So when Google told me I could have a happier marriage by making a list, I was on board.

There are times when even as I speak to my husband, I can hear how critical I am of him. It’s bad when you don’t want to listen to yourself. After a tiff between us, I decided to check online to find an attitude adjustment. Interestingly enough, my Google search started with trying to find tips to motivate my husband to meet my expectations. There are a lot of sites that have tips for motivating others. So when one of the sites mentioned a list that saved a marriage, it stood out, and I had to read it.

Briefly, the author tells the story of the day she decided to leave her husband. Seeking refuge at her parents house, her mother asked her to make a list of her husbands shortcomings. When she had filled one side of the paper, she assumed the next step would be to list his good points, which she determined would not be substantial enough to reverse her decision. Instead, her mother asked her to write down her response to her husband’s trespasses. When she finished, her mother tore off the first part, and threw it away, leaving her daughter with a list of petty behaviors that were ruining her marriage.

When we are faced with difficulties, how we respond can have a huge impact on our happiness. How often do women make sacrifices for their family, that no one asked them to make, only to be left feeling resentful that no one appreciates them. My list was similar to the author’s; when I found myself at odds with my husband, I pouted, cried, gave the silent treatment, screamed – basically I act like a small child.

This realization is directly contrary to my constant stance that my husband is a goofball and I keep everything running. Once I opened my eyes to my own behavior, I could see that my husband is incredibly loving. After I made my list, I could see that the contributions my husband makes may be intangible, and therefore easier for me to ignore.

I believe that when you find yourself in an unhappy place, always look within first. Are your own actions driving your misery? Be honest with yourself, and open your world up to the possibility of change. Not changing others, changing yourself. Not only will you enjoy better relationships, but your children will benefit from you behaving like supermom once again, instead of behaving like a brat.

It’s a bunch of shift work

Today, Oz Spies has a great article for New York Magazine that speaks to the ever-increasing trend of tag-team parenting. With the cost of childcare skyrocketing, it really makes it quite impossible for myself and my peers to afford having children in daycare, so that both spouses can work during the week. It seems that tag team parenting is the direction more and more families are headed in.

I work a full-time 9 to 5 office job, that provides my family with our health benefits. My job is important to me, not only as my chosen career path, but to provide a stable life for my family. Therefore, everything must fit around my work schedule, as I can’t lose my job. If my boss wants me to work late, I’ve got to be there, or risk being expendable when budget cuts come around. This severely limits the job opportunities my husband can pursue. If you are putting your spouse’s career and your children before your own career, many employers do not see that as an asset to their company.

My good friend finds herself in the same position. Before the birth of her second child, she had great success as an RN. However, her husband handles state contracts to clear snow. Once the New England winter starts in earnest, her husband will be working 16+ hours a day, to make sure his small company is completing the work set for them by their contract. He makes the majority of his annual pay in this manner. The money she would make working would barely cover the daycare costs of her two small children, so she has been working 3 or 4 days a month, just enough to keep herself in practice and licensed as a nurse.

At times, it can seem not worth the effort, as our family has lost having even one day of the week when everyone is at home. My husband had to take one weekend off to take care of me, and we worried endlessly that his boss would call and fire him. Now that the fall is coming, I thought it would be nice if we could take the kids apple picking or for a hay ride, but then the obstacle appeared – when could we go? By October it will be dark when I come home from work. We could go in the morning on the weekend, but my husband has to be at work by 10 a.m. and doesn’t get off until 6 p.m. Who’s up for some 7 a.m. pumpkin shopping?

It can be frustrating, but we tell ourselves that it is only while the baby is small. Once he goes to school, there will be more opportunities. We make sure when we are all together that we make the most of it. In the meantime, it’s all a bunch of shift work.