Being truly present with our families
From a blog by the Bacon from Acorns
“It is not good that man should be alone.” Genesis
John Cuddeback is Professor of Philosophy at Christendom College in Virginia, USA. His writing and lectures focus on ethics, friendship, and household. In a recent blog, he writes:
Constitutive of a happy and satisfied life is living in the presence of those we love. Consistently. Perhaps this is most obvious in younger children. They simply want to be together with a small number of people - most of all their family. Yes, they can get used to absence, and so can we all. But it will wear on us, taking its toll.
Certain separations in life will, of course, be necessary, and we and our children have to be able to deal with them. But that said, I am convinced that we would do well to turn a critical eye to the patterns of our lives and examine them in view of the fundamental importance of presence. Herein, I think, we will discover a root source of stress and suffering, for ourselves and for others, especially our children.
It seems to me that we need to grapple, especially today, with a reasonable and pressing need on the part of our children, though they may seldom express or even consciously recognize it. Children ‘need’—in some important sense of that word—regular and meaningful interaction with both parents, even if in unequal quantities, and they need to experience such presence as the normal and dependable context of their day-to-day existence.
We might then ask: Are we sufficiently intentional in making presence a priority? We can begin by identifying the structures in our life that militate against it or make it especially hard to achieve. For instance, patterns of work and school, and even recreation, such as sports, often make it difficult simply to live in the presence of the members of our own household. We find ourselves swept along in a daily schedule that seems as inexorable as it is exclusive of real quality time.
Ironically, and perhaps tragically, the kinds of activities in which people are most naturally present to one another—such as eating together, working together, or relaxing together—are precisely the actions most often squeezed out of our busy schedules.
The problem. of course, is not limited to family households. The living patterns of singles and of the elderly tend likewise to be isolated and isolating. In general, we do not expect our lives to intersect with others in significant and consistent ways.
Our habitual use of technologies of communication and entertainment, among other technologies, have well-documented, chilling effects on our personal presence. What might be less obvious is how for many of us—and here again one thinks especially, though not exclusively of children—such practices also serve to mask, while they amplify, our isolation and unhappiness. What is masked becomes more difficult to address.
Even if some of these things are beyond our mending, others are surely within our power to change. We can begin by putting first things first in our heart, especially as regards to being present to and really living with our loved ones. We will then be more intentional about presence and seek concrete ways of achieving it.
A holistic approach might limit or set aside altogether presence-threatening technologies and practices. Then, it would focus on enhancing the big three contexts of presence in the home: shared work, eating together, and leisure. This requires no special equipment, but it does require intentional effort.
If in the end, we cannot be physically present as much as we—and our loved ones—want, we can still convey to them where our heart is. For where our treasure is, there our heart is truly present. People will feel this. And this in itself will be magical.
Read the full blog here.
The Modern Families Index 2018 gives insights into pressures on family time. There is some good news from other studies - parents now spend twice as much time with their children as 50 years ago - see the article on this site here. See also Presence is better than presents.
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