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New year, new priorities: Family first

Things were just humming along on Christmas Eve. The kids were sacked out in the living room, basking in the glow of both a roaring fire and an early Christmas gift (G-Force . . . skip it). The figgy pudding was in the oven, along with the ham, and -- for a moment -- the mental to-do list was empty. So without thinking, I checked my e-mail.

"This is stupid," I thought. "It's Christmas Eve. No one in their right mind should be e-mailing at this hour." And, indeed, I was right: no new mail. Feeling sheepish, I walked away from the computer. Ten minutes later, in another fit of downtime, I hit "refresh" again. Again, no new mail, only an even bigger sense of foolishness. I'd repeat that sequence twice more before the pudding had firmed up.

Before the night was out, I'd settled on my first big resolution of the new year: no more using the quick excuse of e-mail to get out of really engaging with the family. Let me be clear: I'm not completely ignoring the children by assessing the state of my inbox every 15 minutes, but last week, I began to realize how unconsciously I do it and the way that it keeps me from giving anyone my undivided attention for more than a dozen minutes or so.

E-mail is only the most obvious way that I let myself get out of the rhythm of family life. Between the time everyone gets home and the time everyone goes to bed, there are a thousand good reasons to disengage for a moment. There is laundry to fold, slow-cookers to check, mail to sort. Each of these interruptions has the potential to disrupt a conversation or disrupt the flow of family time.

So, in 2010, I'm not going to let the allure of quick status check -- on anything -- take me away from meaningful family time. That doesn't mean that I won't occasionally use the TV or the Wii as a way to let me take one more phone call or do my sauteing in peace, but I'm going to make sure removing myself from family life, even for an instant, is something that I think about first. That might mean dinner gets burnt every once in a while, and my boss might have to wait a little longer for a response from me, but it's a small price to pay for a little more mindfulness as a parent.

Of course, I could use your help here: in a world of distractions and endless demands, how do you make sure that family time withstands interruptions? Is it only a matter of willpower, or have you all arranged your lives in a specific way to keep distractions at bay?

By Brian Reid |  December 28, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Work/Life Balance
Previous: On Christmas, seeking parental perspective | Next: Creating a sense of 'home' when home keeps moving

Comments


""This is stupid," I thought. "It's Christmas Eve. No one in their right mind should be e-mailing at this hour." And, indeed, I was right: no new mail. Feeling sheepish, I walked away from the computer. Ten minutes later, in another fit of downtime, I hit "refresh" again. Again, no new mail, only an even bigger sense of foolishness. I'd repeat that sequence twice more before the pudding had firmed up."


Sounds like that thingy where you do the same thing over and over and expect a different result.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 28, 2009 7:10 AM | Report abuse

"The kids were sacked out in the living room, basking in the glow of both a roaring fire and an early Christmas gift (G-Force . . . skip it). "

What is G-Force? Is it like the G-Spot? That would explain most of the glow.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 28, 2009 7:12 AM | Report abuse

I limit myself to one hour of online time a day. It's too easy to get endlessly sucked in otherwise.

And we don't have tv. Watching our 16-month-old is way more entertaining. :)

Posted by: newslinks1 | December 28, 2009 8:29 AM | Report abuse

If only 16 months old had an off button, they would be the best home entertainment system around.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 28, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Hmmm, I dunno. Maybe not Christmas Eve but I received and wrote emails to my friends around the country on Christmas day. Sharing the excitement of what we gave, what we received and who came to visit.

(not every 15 minutes though...)

What I got? Oh, I got a pair of Crocs for Christmas.

Posted by: Fred | December 28, 2009 9:17 AM | Report abuse

It's a nice resolution, but good luck in it lasting more than three days. I don't know how old Brian's kids are, but my daughter is 3 years old, and sometimes those "status checks" (email, laundry, dinner cooking, etc.) are sometimes what saves my sanity. Yes, if you do them too often, they would interrupt family life. I try to do the online time and housework after my daughter goes to bed, so I can spend uninterrupted time with her. At the same time, she's not going to turn into a serial killer if I have to interrupt working on a puzzle with her to go check on dinner, and she likes helping me with anything nowadays, laundry, cooking, etc. Maybe Brian needs to give his kids some chores, such as sorting laundry or age-appropriate dinner prep, and then there won't be as many things to check the status of and less interruptions.

Posted by: gypsyrom1 | December 28, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

I love this concept and I too have this same resolution. DS is at the age that there are so many things that we can do together. Each night after I pick him up we discuss out options for the evening, pick one to do after dinner, bath and homework. If I'm not too tired to get online to check my email after he goes to bed I will. But mostly I just wait to get to work the next day.....

However, our main family resolution for 2010 is to declutter the whole house by spring......

Posted by: tecatesdream | December 28, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Did everyone have a nice holiday? I am guility of checking my email CONSTANTLY. Bad habit.

Posted by: sunflower571 | December 28, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Sunflower, just because you asked, I'll tell you that I spent Christmas Day with Wife and kids only, no extentions for the 1st time in my life. DW was too exhausted and Christmassed out to make the planned big dinner, not that we were all that hungry anyway.

So I shared a 7-Eleven Beef and Bean burrito with my daughter late Christmas night. Yes, it was nice.

Shared a few emails with my family and friends too. But hey, at least I don't text anybody or play solitare or Nintendo at the dinner table like my kids will do if they can get away with it.

How did the baby news go over?

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 28, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

fr sunflower571:

>Did everyone have a nice holiday? I am guility of checking my email CONSTANTLY. Bad habit.

We had a GREAT Christmas, thanks! My wife and I gave each other a really nice set of Calphalon pots and pans, and we can definitely tell the difference between using the old pans and using our new ones! WOW!

We also laughed ourselves sick at our two cats, George and Gracie, chasing a laser pointer.

Posted by: Alex511 | December 28, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

"Between the time everyone gets home and the time everyone goes to bed, there are a thousand good reasons to disengage for a moment. There is laundry to fold, slow-cookers to check, mail to sort. Each of these interruptions has the potential to disrupt a conversation or disrupt the flow of family time."

Maybe I had too much eggnog, but I can't follow this at all. Um, yes, doing the things that make your house run smoothly COULD disrupt a conversation, OR you can talk and cook or fold laundry or whatever at the same time, as a family. I fail to see how letting your dinner burn is going to increase the quality of the time spent with your children. Are you going to stop going to the bathroom too? That time away to pee could (ahem) disrupt the flow of family time too.

Off topic - we had a really nice Christmas! We had dinner with my inlaws in Christmas Eve. My entire extended family (25+) came to our house for breakfast on Christmas morning - it was chaotic, but really warm and joyful!

A question for you more experienced parents: We are blessed with very generous families. My son received way too many presents - so many that he really did not want to open them and it took us three days to get all the boxes opened. Is there a polite way to say, Thanks for the generosity, but we really don't need anymore matchbox cars, or do we just smile and thank them and take the excess stuff to the Goodwill?

Posted by: VaLGaL | December 28, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

We had a nice Christmas. I always breathe a sigh of relief sometime about noon on Christmas day. Except that this year I forgot where I stashed a couple of my husband's gifts. Thankfully, I found them in the spare room closet on Saturday night. [Happy Boxing Day, Honey!]

Regarding the plentiful gifts from VaL GaL, I always think it is better to graciously accept the gifts, then put them away in a rubbermaid tote somewhere so you can have a ready supply of birthday presents for the future. And you can stash Matchbox cars just about anywhere. I used to keep one or two in every handbag, and they came in handy. You can also stash books and other items in the car, keep some at Grandparent's house, take them to the office for those inevitable times when others bring kids into the office, etc. Lastly, you can certainly donate them to the charity of your choice. Don't rush to do that now; relax and enjoy the rest of the holidays!

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | December 28, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Yes, you thank everyone for the gifts and then do what you want with them.

Posted by: dennis5 | December 28, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

How did the baby news go over?

Posted by: WhackyWeasel

Whacky, sounds like a nice Christmas! We had a nice time as well-thanks for asking. My family was really surprised it's a boy because I kept telling everyone I thought it was a girl.

ValGal-breakfast for 25 sounds like a big undertaking but very fun!

Posted by: sunflower571 | December 28, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Valgal: my MIL saw how difficult it was for two kids under 2 to open 8 presents, and by the time they got thru a few (3 or 4 each?) she realized it was too much for them and just gave us the rest to take home (i guess we eventually opened them? i don't remember, it was a while ago...). I guess you can't figure that people will just KNOW. But my MIl has completely toned it down in recent years.
Anyway, everyone else gave great hints...you can, as teh kid(s) get older, discuss with them how you're going to be donating a few to charity, and then have them help pick out the one(s) - and then talk about how gracious your relatives are and how some kids don't get anything, etc...

xmas day was so incredibly busy! it was funny. I typically will make cinnamon rolls, cause, well, they can take all day, so it gives me something to do on xmas day. not this year! We had to pick up the kids, take them to a 'get together' then I had invited people over early afternoon so we could have the kids watch a movie, then the grownups made dinner together. Thinking cinnamon rolls this weekend, maybe. i love them, adn they are SO great home made, but again, they take forever (even when I set the breadmaker overnight to do the first part!).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 28, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

I don't usually have time to check my email and read news online more than once or twice a week (three times a week is a record), but with my kids being ages 7 and 2, a husband who works evenings, and my nonstop routine of housework, working the vegetable garden (in season), raising the kids, and other SAHM jobs like that, being able to get online gives me something very important that can be summed up in two words: HUMAN CONTACT. Or at least a conversation with someone resembling a fellow grown-up!

Christmas was fun...we had presents for the kids from both us and Santa at our house, and we went to my parents' place for Christmas dinner (actually Christmas lunch because my husband had to work that night). There were good gifts given and received by all, and my mom made a Christmas dinner that even I could enjoy all of without aftershocks (I go in for gallbladder surgery in February, YAHOO!!!!).

Now I'm looking forward to January 2 when the decorations come down. The ornaments on the tree have been taking a severe beating from the younger kid-every time I turn around, she's knocking stuff off the tree. (And I thought KITTENS were destructive to holiday ornaments...holy heck!)

Happy New Year, everyone!

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | December 29, 2009 6:18 PM | Report abuse

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