Updated: Sep 23, 2019
I have a big family.
Six members, to be exact.
Life is busy. And hard. And some days I want to wind down and escape and pretend all the laundry in the overflowing basket will fold itself. It doesn’t. But, slipping away for a quick peek on Instagram to watch my oldest daughter’s excursions while she’s studying abroad for the semester seems justifiable, especially since she’s no longer under my roof.
Then a quick hop over to Facebook to check in with friends and family I don’t see regularly, also seems allowable—I mean, they live miles away. I smile at comments, as I tell my kids who are asking questions to wait one more second. I just have to make a quick reply and I can help them with their math.
Before I know it, an hour has passed.
Then while making dinner, my 11-year-old daughter asks about cows and the ozone layer and starts to chat away, but I’m focused on making dinner and reading a recipe, and the meal could burn, I explain.
I ask if she could wait until I’m done?
Honestly, I didn’t think much of my mental escapes until I noticed this same daughter giving me the “Just one more minute, mom. I’m texting so and so”, push back the other day.
Huh, I thought. That was uncomfortable. But shrugged it off until our next outing in the car. While I stayed focused on the road and tried to chat about life, my vehicle sat eerily silent.
No one responded.
I’m talking crickets, even though three children sat within arm’s length from me, with glowing devices hovering in front of their faces.
More uneasiness bubbled up when my husband and I noticed this habit creep into our dinner time as they flipped their phone over just to send a quick text from time to time. Eventually, everyone dismissed themselves to their room to sit mesmerized by their device.
That’s when it dawned on me.
I’m training them how to interact with others, and right now my cyberworld and busyness seems far more important than the precious people sitting right in front of me. They mimic what they see. So when someone posted this quote on Facebook, I sighed.
“Wherever you are, be all there.”
~Jim Elliot, martyred missionary
I first reposted the quote (I know, I know—I’m just keeping it real here), then printed the saying for the kids to read. We called a mini pow-wow and gathered around our weathered coffee table as I made the announcement that we were changing some habits, starting with mom. We adopted new boundaries for our electronic devices, in an effort to “Be all there,” like Mr. Elliot suggested.
I started by setting a new two-hour social media time limit on their iPhones (which still seems crazy-long as I admit this to the world), a no-cellphone rule at the dinner table or while driving, and by 10:30 at night, all electronic devices now lock into sleep mode on top of the piano (thank you Apple for your Screen Time options!). Of course, some of my kids protested, to which I told them I’d need to borrow their phone (the one my husband pays for) for the next 24 hours. If another complaint slipped out, I’d need it for 48 hours.
The grumbling slowly subsided.
As we created these rules, I wondered why our society seems fixated on Instagram, Snapchat, and (sigh) Facebook? These last couple of years I feel like we are retreating more and more behind screens, where it appears like we are resting, relaxing, and connecting, but with whom?
Are we truly present at home? Or work? Or on a date with our spouse? Could technology be the obstacle keeping us from growing deeper relationships?
I’m not saying we should unplug altogether, but I’m suggesting we consider a healthy balance. Treating my family the way that I want to be treated is the first step in the right direction (Luke 6:31). Such a simple command, yet I’ve failed daily in this exercise each time I’ve silenced my own child so I can post on Facebook.
Balance is key.
How do I really want to be treated? Honestly, like I’m important. That’s all.
Being attentive when it matters most, and setting aside my own mom-time for an hour in the morning and hour at night is ok, as long as our family is on a similar schedule. We are busy. All of us. Being present is a choice, one I feel that is starting to pay off, especially since my 11-year-old still catches me on my phone from time to time and says with her parent-like-look, “Mom, wherever you are…” she pauses, waiting for me to finish our newly adopted motto.
I realize I’m busted and held accountable and this is exactly the situation that makes me smile.
Here were a few other changes we made since my push-back lesson above: At least three nights a week we either play a board game, invite friends over for dinner, or more recently, we sit together as a family and watch a 45-minute episode of Blue Bloods on Netflix. Yes, we’re still in front of an electronic device, but we often pause the show and chat about the situations these detectives find themselves facing. Communication and teachable moments always stir deep discussions, besides talking with each other versus my child hidden in their room is win for me.
How about you? Are you present? Do you have any house rules your family has adopted to draw you closer? I’d love to hear them.
The kids grow up. Life is short. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. Wherever you are, whoever you’re with, be all there.