This time of year is so important; in the whirlwind of a fast-paced society, occasions to slow down and spend face time with loved ones are precious.
I was reminded of just how precious such time is just this afternoon. My husband and I went to lunch after church, and as we settled into our regular booth, I glanced over to see a gathering of at least three generations at a big table. The oldest at that table was probably in his late 70s, and the youngest was in a high chair. I always love seeing such gatherings, and I had to smile.
I turned to look at this group (I’m assuming they were family) every now and then, just because it’s so unusual to see several generations together like that. I noticed something though that sadly isn’t so unusual.
Three children were at the table, each probably in middle or high school. From the time we were seated until the time we left, none of those kids looked up from their phones. They sat, hunched over and staring into their laps, while the people around them laughed and chatted and eventually sang “happy birthday.” They didn’t order their food (mom did it for them). They didn’t look at the server when their food was brought to the table. They didn’t put their phones down as they ate. I didn’t see any of them interact with others at the table. When the servers came out to sing “happy birthday” to the oldest gentleman, none of the three young people participated – or smiled or even looked up.
As nice as it was to see so many in one family together, it bothered me that, for all practical purposes, those three kids weren’t even present. It bothered me that they had no idea what they were missing. And while it’s none of my business, it bothered me that their parents didn’t require that they put their phones down, make eye contact with the people at the table, and carry on conversations.
It got me thinking, “How many families gathered around Thanksgiving tables this week will look the same way? How many young people will miss that important family interaction, those funny stories and memories? I fear that we have become a society in which random posts and videos made by strangers we don’t even know, are more important to our children than their own families’ dynamics and relationships.
When we were raising our children, phones were not allowed at the table during any meal. That was not a popular rule in our home, but it stood for good reason. It’s rude to answer a phone call at the table, while having a meal together. It is terribly rude and dismissive to stare at a screen while there are loved ones all around us. Tuning out those who care enough about us to want to spend time with us, just to look at friends’ photos and challenges and silly memes, is just plain ill-mannered. But a child won’t know that unless a parent tells him that, and sets that example. Yes, it’s easier to just let it slide, to avoid an argument with a sullen pre-teen or teenager. And after all, everyone else does it, so what’s the big deal?
But it is a big deal.
Beeps, buzzes and vibrations are distracting, a constant reminder that others are jealously vying for your loved ones’ attention. The best course of action is to not even bring phones to the table. You can check that score when dinner is over. You can return that call later. We’re programmed to respond every time our cell phones beckon, so it’s easier to leave the phone in the coat pocket or purse or better yet, in another room.
This year, wherever you spend this day set aside to express love and gratitude, be present. Be sure your kids are present. With all the racing around that characterizes the rest of the year, set this time aside to celebrate and respect loved ones. Family dinners are a cherished and powerful ritual. Someone took the time to prepare that meal, with love and effort and likely, with time-honored family recipes. Honor that time with your full attention, and set that example for your children.
Carole Townsend has been a print correspondent and blogger for more than 16 years. As an award-winning author of six books, she has established a reputation as both an ardent researcher and an engaging writer. Blood in the Soil, her fourth book, was named a 2017 finalist for Georgia Author of the Year by the Georgia Writers Association. Her fifth book, The History of Peachtree Corners, earned her the distinction of being named 2022 Georgia Author of the Year. That same book was also awarded the Whitworth-Flanigan Book Award by the Gwinnett Historical Society. Her sixth book, Major League Deal, details the story behind the Atlanta Braves’ surprise move from Fulton County to Cobb County. Townsend is a graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her books are rooted in the deep South, mainly in Georgia and its rich history. Carole has been a guest on CNN, FOX, NPR, and other major network news and talk shows to discuss her books and related topics. A well-known advocate for women, Townsend also speaks to groups of women and works one-on-one with those who have survived domestic abuse. The author resides in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their two beloved dogs. When she’s not writing, Carole enjoys gardening, cooking, their grandchildren, and travel. Find out more about Carole Townsend by visiting www.caroletownsend.com.