Motherhood Matters: 2 simple ways to heal overwhelmed, disconnected families
Once upon a time, before my life began to revolve around naps and then homework and now carpools, I studied some fascinating stuff about families while pursuing my master's degree at Harvard (that diploma on my wall is mostly useful these days for reminding my kids that I actually do know a thing or two).
Recently I decided it would be interesting to re-read one of my favorite books from that period of my life. It’s called "The Shelter of Each Other," and it’s by New York Times best-selling author Mary Pipher (she also wrote a great book called "Reviving Ophelia" about raising adolescent girls that was a big deal back in the '90s). "The Shelter of Each Other" offers lots of great insights into how to build a happy family or create a happy family out of an unhappy one. The book was really interesting to me when I first read it, but it means much more to me now that I’m actually in the midst of trying to build my own family.
In the book, the author shares case studies of families a couple generations ago and of modern-day families. It’s interesting to see some of the things our society seems to have lost (a strong and quite universal sense of what is right and wrong, a strong sense of responsibility, acceptance that hard things are part of life, the slowness and peace of a world with very little technology, etc.) and some of the things we’ve gained (greater openness, more understanding and acceptance, etc.). It’s also interesting to compare the hard issues mainstream families dealt with long ago (sickness, poverty, deaths of loved ones, hard physical labor, too much responsibility put on children, too few choices) with the hard issues mainstream families face today (drugs, alcohol, monitoring what kids have access to and how much time they spend in front of screens, lack of tangible work and tangible results, too many choices, etc.).
But the part of the book that struck me the most was this:
Pipher is meeting with a family in crisis. The mom is depressed and works long hours. The dad seems addicted to the Internet and can’t seem to kick his smoking habit. Their 18-year-old daughter is a perfectionist recovering from anorexia. Their 14-year-old daughter is downright mean to everyone in the family and has problems with drugs and alcohol. Their 10-year-old son is lonely and mercilessly teased at school and wants to play video games constantly. They don’t feel at all connected with each other and consider themselves a totally dysfunctional family. They have the desire for a strong, happy family, but they don’t really know how to get from where they are to where they want to be. So they’re willing to try just about anything Pipher suggests.
In thinking about how this family could heal itself, Pipher says, “This family needed more nourishing activities. As adults, people remember three kinds of family events with great pleasure — meals, vacations and time outdoors. I wanted this family to have some memories.”
Based on this need she identified, Pipher said this to the family, “I”m going to make a couple of radical suggestions here. One is that you turn off the television and computer for at least a couple of nights a week, and two, that the family do something out of doors every week together. Watch a sunset, go for a walk, or take a trip to a wilderness area.”
Turning off TVs and computers isn’t really a radical suggestion for families these days. In the 15 years since Pipher wrote this book, it seems our society has started to face the real issues involved in too much screen/technology time, and many families have learned the necessity of declaring and protecting “screen-free” time in their lives. Of course, actually implementing what we know is right can be a challenge.
On the other hand, the suggestion of spending time outdoors isn’t something our society seems to be thinking as much about. Pipher goes on to explain this further.
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