Family life, or 'family-lite'?

Taking time to do things together as a family is important, parenting columnist Ian Munro writes. 

The first intake of Syrian refugees has arrived in Auckland and they are now on their six-week residential orientation.

While watching the television coverage of their walk to western Europe late last year, I started wondering what sort of ongoing family relationships will develop and just how different will the children be from what they might have been. Will the experience bring each family closer than ever, or will the ongoing stresses and strains tear them apart?

I watched, but much more closely, what happened to teenagers and their families in my work in Christchurch in the three years after the February earthquake. Some families reported being closer; some fell apart. Longer term, will these youngsters' attitudes be different and will they approach life differently from their peers elsewhere in the country?

These Syrian youngsters have faced a grimmer reality than the Christchurch youngsters, but in both cases family life has been seriously disrupted.

Hopefully, the trials and tribulations the Syrians have been through will bring their families closer together. Life will continue to be hard, but in some ways, perhaps richer. More so than for many of our tired, overweight children with impoverished imaginations, who have little sense of family and their backgrounds and of their country's history or the world around them. And couldn't care a fig about these things anyway.

Considering the speed with which change now happens, it's not altogether surprising that a good number of our children do experience disjointedness and a lack of connection with anything but the people they now spend most of their time with: their classmates, digital "friends'' and the promotions people of the world of commerce.

In the past, children spent most of their time working alongside their parents in the fields, hunting, or undertaking domestic tasks. Now these are either done for leisure or are reluctantly done chores such as stacking the dishwasher or tidying their rooms.

When did you last observe the 21st-century equivalent of a mother and daughter sitting spinning or knitting together? Or children tilling the soil and planting the seeds with Dad? Today, families working together would be the exception rather than the rule.

I'm certainly not recommending the experiences of war or even an earthquake to bond us; however, we do need to find some less dramatic ways to spend time doing real things together and side by side as families, even if it's only household chores.

In this way, we can get past the quick, daily exchanging of information and arranging of schedules that passes for family life for many, what I call family-lite, and get into the deeper talk of who we are, what we are, our values and what is really important in our lives.



Add a Comment