We moved from the old house—the only house our big kids had ever known—to have a basement like the one we have now. There was more to it, obviously: The old neighborhood was transitioning from Family-Friendly Oasis to Fast-Paced Urban Hub. All the affordable and sensible improvements we could make to the structure of our old place would not touch its need for serious renovations, and no matter what we tried, we shared our old basement with millions of spiders. For all the charm of that 1948 building and the half-acre of land upon which it sat, we outgrew it.
In this new house, God gave us all the things my secret heart desired, and for which I was too afraid to ask Him. Our son still longs for the narrow wood slats instead of these hand-scraped, wide plank floors, saying they were better for racing his cars. Everything else is the definition of more than we could have asked or imagined: composite decking, granite, laundry upstairs (read: not in the basement with the spiders). What’s more, now Hubby has his basement! It’s spacious and full of sunlight.
We have made it into a space for our family to play, another thing that could never have happened in our old home. Deep pile carpeting spreads out over epoxy for bare feet. Couches, a recliner, air hockey, arcade-style basketball, foosball, and ping-pong are all stationed along the cement walls promising family fun.
One night, as two-thirds of the big kids were gaming, the baby was running into the hammock swing then Whoa-ing back, and Hubby and I were breathing hard with the table tennis paddles in our hands when the realization hit us: we can only stand to talk to each other with phones in our hands, listen to each other if we’re also ping-ponging, and be happy if the kids are allowed to game from the time they wake up till the time their heads hit the pillow at night. Our brains have a deficit of attention. We have to be distracted to stand each other, to stand ourselves. I’ve learned this is part of what happens with too much blue light and too much distraction, like tv (the true opiate of the masses).
Systems and devices deprived us of human connection. The devil sought to keep us relationally disconnected. Things like gaming systems and phones were ready distractions from the people in front of us, but we had choices. As we integrated our emotions with our thoughts, we finally accepted and said out loud, “We are giving our family away to distraction.”
In contrast to the night of gaming and table tennis, a tornado blowing eighty-four miles per hour, uprooting mature trees and dropping them on cars and fences, and shaking our A-frame swing set chased us into our basement for shelter. As the electricity went out, our entire family—Mama, Daddy, thirteen-year-old, eleven-year-old, nine-year-old, and two-year-old—huddled into one car so we could pick up Chick-fil-A for dinner. And into one room, because we had one candle and one flashlight as well as an assortment of battery-powered “lights” gathered by kids that made me smile—a lighted makeup mirror, a hover ball toy, and a Bluetooth speaker turned on its head because of the light ring around the circumference of its bottom. Robbed of our devices, which had run out of juice… In the dark, we finally engaged in a way we don’t often do, except when we vacation to new places that are more compelling than our electronic temptations—no wifi connection.
We are in the coliseum of technology—Hubby, Wifey, and family, and we’re cheering at all the distractions as our family time and connection is being devoured. We’re playing a part in the demise of our own relationships, while apps devour us, and devices offer us greater and greater spectacles.
We don’t have enough bandwidth for family these days.
Counselor Adam Young says, in his podcast, he believes we sin most against our children. Though my thinking can certainly change, I agree. Pride and complacency are most tempted by wet clay. As I work the clay of my children’s hearts, trying to mold rapidly drying earth into godly bricks—by teaching them everything from how to potty to how to cook, it becomes easier and easier to think I know it all.
Recently, we went on a vacation with friends who are walking ahead of us, already doing the hard work of parenting in longhand, rather than defaulting to our habit—a rapid method of connecting by substituting time for extravagant gifts, meals together for fast food—short parenting. We watched them and absorbed without ever hearing a word of judgment or correction or advice: Helping their children brush their teeth, encouraging them to get outside and away from big and small screens, getting up and taking walks and hikes and dragging them on a giant unicorn float named “Madame Majesty Sparkle.” They were completely present, instead of sitting back in pop up chairs of convenience and letting important bonds float away on invisible waves of time and apathy.
We came home committed to spending more of our time engaging life according to the example of connection our friends lived out so simply. We want to do the work it takes to get real meals made for the family, show we care by the effort we put into putting our things down to look each other in the eye and help with homeschool work, read a comic book drawn by our child, and get down on the floor to play with the baby. My oldest was the first person to say to me, “Good enough isn’t good enough,” and it’s true.
Before, our temporary satisfaction brought on by screens was followed by wicked withdrawal symptoms— ingratitude, sour stomachs, insomnia and melatonin issues, anxiety, depression, developmental regression and failures to launch, chaos, manipulation from the kids, and infighting between my husband and me. I have accepted good enough as our life for too long.
I have ignored the dead soil, broken connections, misfiring brains, dysfunctional systems, and developed a deep fear of the awful plants growing in our toxic field. I see the fruits of nonorganic play and genetically modified interactions resulting in a total inability to thrive. No one talks. No one listens. No one cares. We’ve been missing each other. Our failure to lead, whether it’s due to fear or weakness, is sin. For too long, it has enslaved our whole family.
We’ve become keenly aware there will be consequences for every idle thought, word, action, and system. Every apathetic or frustrated omission bears fruit at every intersection with ourselves and this world. Someone once said to me: “We’re either causing or complicit in the culture of our home.” When I consider the Kingdom of Heaven, I hear “culture.” It’s a climb to create culture, so we’ve begun to scale the mountain.
We’ve started leaving the tv to its master, the devil, along with all of the other devices under his employ (kidding, not kidding.) We started playing Trivial Pursuit together and eating at the dinner table again. Weekday video game meetings have been cancelled. Fuse-ball and air hockey and Pop-A-Shot together are fine.
We haven’t figured it all out—no one has—but we’ve said the scary things out loud to each other. We’ve opened our hearts to God so He can teach us to lead our family out of the ditch and help us amend the soil and weed the garden that is our family.
Jay is a writer, a mama, and an audio editor for Kindred Mom. God has changed each goal Jay has ever had, chiefly those concerning her relationships and writing. If it is part of her life, she wants it to please Him. Self-taught in many ways, she is always looking to make connections and find ways to improve her brain, her blog, and her brood (ages 2 to 13 years). Married since 2004 to her husband, Taylor, she’s been tied to her college sweetheart for nearly a quarter-century. Together, they raise their four children in the Chicago suburbs, where they enjoy pursuing creativity in the midst of the daily grind. Whether it’s writing screenplays, gardening, or gaming, Jay’s family is usually cultivating something. As a mama to both teens and toddlers, Jay is passionate about instilling deep, identity-forming truths in her children. Her other interests include: encouraging others, reading when she can, and learning what she can about where the mind-brain-body-reality intersects with Biblical perspective. You can find some of her musings on her blog and Instagram.