The Lost Art of Family Communication

by Cate on May 22, 2012

Teenager in Training
Picture of Madeline circa January 2010.

Excuse me.

Dragging soap box from the corner of the room.

Dusting it off.

Climbing on.

On Mother’s Day last Sunday night, the kids took me out for dinner.

During our meal, we talked.

Interacted.

Had eye contact.

Smiled.

Laughed.

Shared moments.

And food.

Most important?  We connected.

While we were at the restaurant, we noticed two tables near us.  One table was a husband and wife and their four girls.  During the entire meal, the husband and wife were on their phones.  Texting.  Showing each other things on their respective phones.  Their faces illuminated by the digital glare.  All while their children sat in front of them.  Little interaction between the parents and their children.

Another table near them.  Husband.  Wife.  Three teenagers.  The middle teenager and the Mom were on their phones the entire time.  Barely looking up to put food in their mouths.

Stuff like this drives me crazy.

And I vented about it.  Quite a bit.

Drives me crazy.

Growing up, my Dad would never let us answer the house phone during dinner.

“If it’s important, they’ll call back.”

I used to think that was such a stupid rule.  There were boys!  They might call!  I might miss a trip to the mall!

But of course, years later, I came to realize what he knew back then.

When I was 16.

That he was right.  Of course.

As long as there have been kids in my house (even with my stepdaughter, long before Nick and Madeline were born), I have had the same rule.

We don’t answer the phone during dinner.  Period.  End of story.

When my stepdaughter got her first cell phone years ago, I instituted the no-cell-phones at the dinner table rule.

Texting.  Boys.  Facebook.

It can all wait.

I swear.

Did you know that the average American teenager sends 75 text messages a day?  That’s crazy.  I do, however, text as well.  In fact, when Mystic is over, he often turns off my answering machine because I am terrible about listening to messages.  Texting is instant!  But, I also e-mail.  Call.  Send regular mail.  All of the above.  I like to connect.

But never.  Ever.  During dinner.

People who visit us for dinner know the rules.  About phones and dinner.

And if they mess up?  My kids are the first ones to remind them.

If you can’t connect with your family and friends for 30-45 minutes at the dinner table, WHEN CAN YOU?

Besides the fact that it’s generally rude to your fellow dinner guests, it’s skewing priorities.  Nothing is so important that it can’t be dealt with after dinner.

(My only exception is if I’m eating dinner without my kids, on their Dad’s weekend for example.  If my phone rings, I’ll check just to make sure it isn’t them.)

People.  Please.  Connect with your children.  And if you don’t have kids, it’s just as important.  Who wants to go out with a group of girlfriends, only to have everyone looking down at their lap, busily texting?  At the very least, put the kibosh on phones during meal times.

Whether you’re at a restaurant.  Or at home.  Or at a friend’s house.  Connect with the people who are right there in front of you.  Interact.  Engage.  Share.  Make eye contact.

There’s a pin floating around on Pinterest that has a basket for phones with a note that says “Connect with the people who are here.”  Amen.

I don’t have to point to statistics.  But if I have to, I will.  This recent study is an awesome one.  And when they talk about the importance of connecting as a family during the week for dinner, they mean sans technology.

Just as important as the no-phones-during-meal time rule is, of course, the general concept of family meal time on its own merits.  As we go off on our various paths for soccer practice, Scout meetings, gym runs, errands, work, school, and more, meal time is when we can all come together.

Catch up.  Question.  Vent.  Share.  Keep tabs on what everyone is up to.

As a co-worker and I recently talked about how the world has changed since we were kids, I can only come to one conclusion.  I can’t change how the world operates.  I can only control my little tiny piece of it. 

Raising kids to appreciate family meal times.  And phone-free zones.

And hope that although they might roll their eyes at the rules when THEY turn 16, they’re staunch supporters of it when they have their OWN kids.

Because good values?  They have that trickle down effect.  And it starts in my house.

May 22, 2012 – Bonus Photos
stormy roads ahead

The storm clouds today were pretty amazing.

storm to follow

And considering it’s yet another day of rain, I’m doing my best to appreciate cloud formations and not complain.

heart shaped cloud

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Maureen @ Orgasmic Chef May 22, 2012 at 9:44 pm

You are so right. I see this at restaurants and wonder what the heck they’re thinking.

Life is about who’s in front of you. :)

My parents never allowed interruptions during dinner either and I’m grateful for it.

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Betsy May 22, 2012 at 9:54 pm

I am so with you on this. I also can’t stand people texting as they walk. I’ll admit, sometimes I walk right to them, rather than moving aside. Ok, I don’t go as far as them walking into me. But it least perhaps it will remind them (ha) that they are ridiculous.

Just today I saw two 20 somethings and one was texting/on the phne during much of their lunch. I would think anyone, would hate just sitting there.

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Sister in-law May 22, 2012 at 11:14 pm

I can’t agree with you more!

SIL

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Sarah May 22, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Oh yes. Agreed! I also have a very big problem with parents who allow children to bring electronic games and iPads to use at restaurants. If a child can’t sit, interact and behave during a meal out, how will they survive business meetings, client lunches, etc as an adult? And furthermore, why shouldn’t they be present at the table instead of lost in an iPad?

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Kim May 24, 2012 at 8:02 pm

DO YOU HAVE KIDS?!

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Lucinda June 3, 2012 at 1:31 am

I do and I agree completely with Sarah. If I’m at a restaurant, I want to spend time with the people at the table, including my kids. We have always been very purposeful in our use of technology with the kids. Car rides over 30 minutes? Sure. Less than 30 minutes? Bring a book or talk to me. They can handle it if you teach them. At least that has been my experience with my kids. But I also know every kid is different.

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Joanne May 23, 2012 at 6:37 am

I LOVE that rule. My parents let us answer the phone during dinner (but only the regular phone, not cell phones) but we had to tell whoever was calling that we’d call them back. And we knew that. These days, if I’m at dinner then the phone is on silent.

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chris May 23, 2012 at 7:26 am

we have a rule at work. when we go out for lunch everyone has to put their cell phones in the middle of the table. who ever pics theres up has to pay the bill. you want to see a group of people go crazy……LOLOL>…. watching as an email comes or a text and god forbid a call. everyone looks at each other and says. GO AHEAD….it works. no one wants to pay the lunch bill. :)

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Cate O'Malley May 24, 2012 at 9:25 am

I love that rule!

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Ramona May 23, 2012 at 9:05 am

I agree. A great rule. Something I can’t seem to get through to the hubby, that if it’s that dang important they will call back.

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Jennifer May 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm

First time viewing your blog.
You have captured exactly how I feel about this issue. It both irritates and saddens me that people have lost the art of communication and the ability to live directly in the moment with those that share their space. We don’t answer the phone either during dinner and there is just two of us. Don’t even get me started about restaurants; disgusting to see people using technology while ignoring each other, shoveling food in their mouths and kids acting up. Good post!

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Winnie May 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm

I enjoyed reading this. We never answered the phone during meals. Period. Dad and mom taught us that. I keep that rule now. We have a machine and can hear if it were an emergency. I HATE the nonstop talking on phones in restaurants PERIOD. We should connect with those we are with and NOT disturb those around us either. If it is an emergency, excuse yourself talk and then rejoin the party. I hate seeing people basically eating and paying more attention to their HANDS than looking into the faces of those they are with. Rude in my opinion.

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momstoryteller May 30, 2012 at 8:20 am

Totally agree. I thought of doing a photo blog one time that just has pictures of people out to dinner together ignoring each other. If you don’t talk (and especially if you don’t listen) to kids when they are young, you’ll have a hard time getting them to open up when they are teens.

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Annette May 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Checking one’s phone while eating with others is a more obvious version of talking over someone’s head at a party, scanning the room for what or who else might be more interesting. And it’s not just kids who are guilty of this phone behavior. Not long ago I was in a restaurant with five other women. At 55, I was the youngest. At one point all four of the others were checking their phones or texting. I was staging my own moratorium on cell phones at the time and didn’t have one (though I’ve since succumbed). Yes, there are times when one is expecting an important call; if necessary, excuse yourself and answer it, but just checking to see what’s going on elsewhere, whether with friends or family, it’s just plain discourteous.

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Lucinda June 3, 2012 at 1:33 am

Love, love, love this post! This is exactly how I feel too. When we had an exchange student with us a few years back, I caught him texting during dinner. I immediately took the phone away and explained that it was rude. I didn’t ask a lot but I expected him to be present during dinner. He never did it again. My husband has a business and often gets calls during dinner. Unfortunately they can’t all be ignored. But he does his best and gives us at least 15 minutes of dinner time each night despite his 16 hour days. He know that may be the only time during the day he gets to really talk to our kids. Connecting is so important. I’m glad I’m not alone in this belief.

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Limitlesslisa June 4, 2012 at 5:22 pm

This is absolutely a rule in our home and it covers not just the phone, but all electronics. No electronics at the dinner table. Period. Unfortunately, it is perceived as the ‘stupidest rule ever’ by my teenage daughter, who is subsequently grounded from her phone more often than not for breaking this rule.

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Erica August 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm

You are so right. It’s really out of control these days. There is absolutely no phones or electronics at the table during meals. My kids are younger so I’m trying to stop these bad habits before they start.
Erica recently posted..4 Tips to Lighten Your Workload to Focus on Your Family

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