Dealing with other humans is a nearly impossible thing. If we were dogs, and could just sniff around a bit, and then move on our merry way, no words necessary. Words, in a household, can easily get you in deep trouble.
We are a modern family, and with that come lots of devices. Most evenings, each of us can be found behind our own screens, be it desktop, laptop, phone, or iPad. And there are few words exchanged. Ostensibly, the kids have homework, and us elders, well, we’re watching or listening to things (my husband) or looking and connecting to lives outside of ours (me).
We do, however, sit down at the dinner table on the nights when we are all at home. Lately at these meals I have noticed that there is a hyped-up energy, with everyone trying desperately to talk about themselves. It is a mash-up of anecdotes and epiphanies, of “what happened to mes” and “listen to thises.”
I try to take a deep breath and threaten often (or it seems like a threat to my unwilling charges) to have a little pre-dinner meditation. Jesus, we are all so needy, and, yet, I cannot for the life of me figure how to work it so that there is enough giving and receiving to leave us all satiated.
To help us feel satisfied with our interactions is much harder than filling bellies, though these days my boys are both pushing upwards so fast my meager meals sometimes can’t even do that.
I want my boys to have great memories of these few precious moments a day of non-screen togetherness, and I want these moments to buoy them to go out in the world and create truly satisfying relationships, and yet… As the dishes get cleared, I am often sitting there wishing I could have handled it differently, hoping that somewhere in the melee there was a tidbit that made them feel good, or understand that my best intentions rose up beyond the often-trying reality of Thompson Family attempts at group discussion.
I’m afraid my husband and I don’t always set the best example. A friend who came to visit us in New York just after we first started dating in the early ’90s just stopped on the sidewalk and shook his head at some point during the weekend.
“Listening to you guys is like watching a play,” he said. “The way you just talk and talk and talk, and talk over each other.”
I think of that comment often at our family dinners now, as many voices speak at high decibels, trying to be heard. Gulp. I often yell at my husband for not letting one or the other of the boys speak and then, because they are sassy teens now (thank god), they usually put me in my place and remind me that I do exactly the same thing. I am glad they have the voice to stand up to me and to stand up for themselves, as they’ll need that fighter spirit in the world in order to be heard. But we do need to figure a way to listen to each other better, to calm down and take turns telling our tales, and truly offer up signs that we are hearing and considering one another, and caring.
Ugh. Family. At holiday time, it becomes especially fraught ’cause we often add in the extended gang and all the trials and tribulations of those relationships. Everyone has their issues, and if we don’t take care it just becomes a face-off of who’s got more problems than who. Yuck. There has to be a way to give everyone air time so that they don’t feel invisible, and also not to turn it into a “Co-Dependents Anonymous” meeting (which, disclaimer, I’ve never been to, but have thought about many times, and can imagine.)
Families are dependent on one another. We all have needs. Now that my boys are older, I try to tell them and show them that I am a person whose needs they must consider, at the dinner table and beyond, just as they are. It is important that they understand how to listen as well as talk, that they learn to consider others as much as themselves.
That’s a goal for the holidays: mutually beneficial interactions. May you find them, and revel in them, with joy.