Years back, a person’s home was just a utility. A home was where you prepared dinner, took a bath, did homework, ironed some clothes and watched a little TV. It didn’t matter if the couch matched the end tables, or the appliances were stainless, white or peach. The plumbing should work and the garage should be ample, but in those days you spent time with friends having cocktails or barbecuing at the neighbors. The whole family went together to a ball game or a picnic or a movie. There was more of a sense of ‘living out’, being in the world, participating, socializing, moving around.
Now we ‘live in’, staring at our devices, bingeing on Netflix and eating stuffed crust pizza. Somewhere in the 90s appliances became status symbols, devices dominated our lives and the internet was where we did our shopping. We started to ‘live in’.
We have almost forgotten the art of dropping in on a friend, getting together for Friday night spaghetti, or telling the kids, “Mealtime is 5:00, be here!”
Families are united on text message threads, kids are on devices consistently, parents work from home on their phones shamefully, but irresistibly, at all hours of the night. Family life is like a little archipelago, clustered, but often not connected in meaningful ways.
What is the fix?
I think we in Olderhood have an obligation to renew or invent new rituals that are experiential for our families. We may have to shoulder more of the planning or even the finances to make it go, but bringing the family and the extended family together falls to us, the senior members of the tribe. It is for us to plan an event that is attractive and fun for whatever age or stage is dominant in your tribe. Everyone with toddlers? Then you hire the pony and bouncy house. Middle age adult kids? Plan a spa day with the family. Hire a masseuse to come and give massages while others chat. The point is you must be intentional and deliberate in making people push past inertia and load up the car to drive an hour to be together. The nourishment always pays big dividends.
Many families get trapped in patterns of disconnect and need help breaking that trance and remembering that group gatherings are good for the soul and for the heart. A client told me that at her mother’s passing, her brother did not want a memorial or to get together on their Mother’s behalf, as they did not get along well. The young adult kids did want a family get together and went ahead and organized it against a considerable amount of friction from the disagreeable family member. In the end, he came and enjoyed himself, and in fact, she told me , “He stayed an extra day!” And upon leaving, he told her, “Thanks for ignoring everything I said, this was great.” She had broken his trance and overcome inertia.
So instead of ordering that stuffed crust pizza and watching HULU tonight, call your niece or nephew, get your son or daughter on the line and plan a family outing. Make yourself valuable.