Thursday, January 22, 2015

Our Family is So Busy! Finding Ways to Create Meaningful Moments and Memories

With all the talk of “simplifying,” it seems people are busier than ever.

This increased pace is quite understandable given the impact of changes in the economy over the last decade.  In general, salaries have remained flat while the price of goods has increased.  So not only are people having to work more hours simply to keep up, they are also now commonly expected to take on extra duties as their companies pursue cost-saving strategies of eliminating positions and “right-sizing” their workforces.

In addition to these economic factors, there have been significant cultural changes in how people view “good parenting.” Parents now expect themselves to spend more intensive time (i.e. “quality time”) with their children and to pour more resources into their children than ever before—think elite sport teams, summer enrichment activities, leadership workshops, SAT prep courses, etc.  It’s no wonder parents and children alike are reporting increasingly higher rates of stress, sleep deprivation, substance abuse, and anxiety.

Although there are no quick fixes for these challenges of modern life, one strategy I use comes from the work of psychologist Mary Pipher.  In her book The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families (2008) she documents the ways that society not only strains parents but also undermines parent-child relationships. Pipher describes important research on the three most meaningful experiences people remember from their childhoods: family meals, vacations, and time spent outside.  As I reflect on these experiences, I suspect that each helps cultivate more present-moment awareness and connection—two factors that we now know are essential for health. The good news is that with intention, these are experiences many of us can more regularly incorporate into our family’s general rhythms.

Family Meals—Connecting around meals has been an important ritual through the ages.  The meals don’t have to be home-cooked, though, and they certainly don’t have to be organic or vegan.  Even the most basic meal of pasta or soup can create a space for reconnecting at the end of the day when accompanied by simple rituals such as setting the table, lighting a candle, or saying a blessing.  Due to hectic schedules, shared meals may not be a regular option for some families.  But investing in creating togetherness in this way, even if only once a week, can increase our family experience of connection and belonging.

Vacations—Too often, people think vacations must mean expensive trips to faraway places.  What I’ve learned, however, is that the positive impact of a vacation is less about destination, and more about its ability to provide an opportunity to connect in different—and more meaningful—ways.  When we take a vacation, we help ourselves re-focus on being together, creating shared experience, and being present with one another.  This is especially true if we are able to leave technology behind.  Vacations really don’t have to be fancy or costly; in fact, the more simple, the better.  Vacations can include day trips, car trips to visit relatives and friends, or camping at a state park.

Spending Time Together Outside— The soothing and restorative effects of being in nature have been well documented.  Additionally, we tend to interact differently with each other when we’re in the outdoors—we’re less distracted, more focused, and less stressed.  Having a picnic in the backyard, taking a walk in a park, going fishing, lighting a small bonfire—these are outdoor experiences that can help strengthen connection, and create positive memories.

As with any intention, it’s important to remember that it’s not “all or nothing.”  We don’t have to do these things all the time, or do them perfectly!  Even if we can increase the frequency of these experiences only by a couple of  times a month or year, they can help us strengthen our families, solidify our connections, and provide moments of pleasure and respite from the crazy, fast-paced world in which so many of us now live.

By Kayce Meginnis-Payne, Ph.D; Psychologist at Grew, Morter & Hartye, P.A. in Raleigh, NC. She works with adults experiencing anxiety, depression, and problems with interpersonal relationships. She also specializes in helping people heal from behavioral “addictions” such as perfectionism, people-pleasing, and codependence.

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