Family Time, Then and Now
My father was a very busy person, with hardly any time for us during the day. But his absence was well compensated by our mother's omnipresent company and great devotion every minute of our growing years. However, on his part in parenting us, our father made it a priority to be with the family at dinner time every day without fail. In fact, he had made it mandatory for everyone in the family to be together at the dinner table. Mealtime at night was a ritual in our family which must not be missed by anyone. Apart from the family members, anyone around the dinner table was family, most often a friend of one or the other sibling. Father would generally jump-start the family conversation by asking questions like, "What did you like most about your day?" or "What was the best part of your day?" He would suggest slow down and savor the food, not so much to inculcate a healthy habit, as to give more time to enjoy mealtime conversation before clean up began. Indeed, this used to be the best quality time for the family in a day, the important elements being family cohesion and family communication. The atmosphere was essentially kept fun-filled, non-confrontational and stress-free by focusing on fun topics. Interestingly, Sunday evenings were an exception to the rule when there were no mealtime family meetings. Every one was free to come at anytime, or even eat out. It was an evening off for the cook as well as for our mother from the kitchen duty. We looked forward to the weekly off to go to watch a movie or to freak out with friends. Parents would take the opportunity to make social calls on friends and relations. The basic idea was family flexibility.
With school holidays underway, our family's annual summer travel ritual began. The family would head for the hills, most of the time for Srinagar, Kashmir, where our uncle was settled. This was a great way for the family to have some of that special time together, and a great way to get away too. Whether it was around the dinner table, or enjoying our vacations on the hills, we really had a wonderful family-time together.
When the time for us came to devote quality time to our children, the times had changed. Amid the hits to families' budget in the new economic order, at-home moms were already marching to work, to make both ends meet. Although most parents felt hurting to their pride to talk about it, the economic downturn and ever increasing inflation was forcing many to defer dreams of striking a better work-life balance. Amongst working parents, we were slightly better placed, with my wife working less hours and more vacations in her school job than most other women who worked 9-5 in offices. She would come back from work almost the same time our son returned from school, and could devote rest of the day to him, even though it was at times too tiring.
To add to parents' anxiety and additional labour for mothers particularly, youngsters barely have time to talk before hunkering down with homework. On the whole, students now come home with more schoolwork than ever before--and at a younger age. Most of us remember homework, if we remember it at all, as one of the minor annoyances of growing up. Sure, we dreaded the multiplication tables and those algebraic equations. But let's admit it: who even bothered with the stuff until after the requisite hours had been spent playing or swimming. The homework crunch is heard loudest in the country's better middle-class school districts, where teachers deliver enough academic rigor to get students into top secondary schools and colleges. Now there's a blow-back: the sheer quantity of nightly homework and the difficulty of the assignments can turn ordinary weeknights into four-hour library-research excursions, leave kids in tears and parents with migraines, and generally transform the placid refuge of home life into a tense war zone. The pain caused by homework isn't just emotional. While kids grow more frazzled, parents are increasingly torn. Just how involved should they be? Should they complain to teachers about the heavy workload or be thankful that their kids are being pushed toward higher achievement? It's ironic that politicians talk so much about family values, when you can't have any family time anymore because the kids are so busy keeping their nose to the grindstone.
There is definitely a decline in family time, and it coincides with a rise in internet use and the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter in particular. It's not how much time we give to the children now, but how much time they have for us from the time they spend online. Folks are finding less time to spend with those closest to them, and are spending more time pecking at a keyboard and stare at a glowing square. It can't be a good thing that families are spending less face-to-face time together. Ultimately it leads to less cohesive and less communicative families. We, the parents sailing in the same boat, don't want to paint the Internet as the devil here, but this does make us step back from our desks and think; we could all stand to unplug for a few more minutes each day. The Internet does have seemingly endless troves of information, but there are some things that only parents can teach their children.
All said, whatever the individual circumstances, there are no rules about how to create Family Time – but create we must, as there is no greater gift we can give each other and to children, than our time and attention. On our part, we have always tried our best to follow our parents' footsteps, a must mealtime get-together every day, and heading to the hills almost every year during summer holidays.