Following my last article, Why So Many Young Jewish Couples Are Divorcing, I received a slew of emails describing the difficulties that couples today are facing. Most pointed to a break in communication: Husbands walking through the door at night still attached to their phones, insisting that their work day is not over; wives texting, barely looking up to acknowledge their spouse’s presence. I have seen this attitude of disengagement trickle down to the children in our homes.

A couple approached me to speak about their 14 year old son.

“I try so hard but my son just won’t talk to me,” the father said. “It’s not like he sits there talking with my wife all day but to me, he is a total zombie. I even offered to take him to a basketball game with his favorite team, best seats in the house. The entire time he just sat texting on his phone. Not a word between us except when he wanted to get a Coke. I can’t understand it.”

Were you always checking your phone? If that’s the behavior he saw, he’s simply doing what you did with him.

I told this father that I don’t mean to be hurtful or blaming but I just have one question: “All these years when you would drive your son to soccer or baseball, when he would ask you to play with him or read a book, even while you were out catching a bite together, were you checking your phone? If that’s the behavior he saw, he is simply doing what you did with him. He thinks it’s perfectly normal.”

The parents looked at each other and from their faces I saw that there was nothing left to say. Regret is a most painful emotion for us to carry.

And how are these sons and daughters going to relate to their own children and spouses? What does the future hold for families down the road?

Phone Addiction

Most people have become attached to their phones. I know men and women who sleep with their phones on all night, at their bedsides. Teens do the same. We go out to eat and believe we are spending quality time but our phones are on the table. We cannot miss a ping.

Family life requires focus. We need to hear, to see and to listen. Children need to feel cherished. Spouses need to feel as if they are not invisible. After a while, we stop believing that we are relevant. If you cannot seem to look at me while I am speaking what does that tell me about my words? Do I even matter to you?

Parents have also been made to feel as if they don’t count in their children’s lives. Perhaps this has always been a parenting issue but it is now way too easy to disconnect from the ones who wish to love us and to feel love most.

A mother told me that she traveled with her daughter to check out colleges for next year. After the long visit they got into the car for the 3-hour drive home. She was looking forward to sharing thoughts with her daughter, exchanging conversation and laughter. As they put on their seatbelts, her daughter placed her headphones over her ears, making it very clear that she was not interested in talking. Her mother felt terribly hurt but didn’t want to have the trip end on a sour note.

We use our phones and laptops as an escape. We are here but not present, and delude ourselves in thinking that we are together.

Bored with Being

How often do we find it difficult to be engaged with one activity at a time? What about our children? Homework, supper time, lounging with friends is constantly disrupted with checking out Instagram, Facebook and texting. We quickly get bored no matter what we are doing if we don’t have our phones to distract us.

Deteriorating family life is the price we are paying for the new digital world we live in.

One young mom confided to me that she finds being a mother boring. Meal time with her kids is just the dullest time of all. “Would it be so bad if I would sit at the table and play candy crush on my phone?”

Imagine how these children are growing up. Their mother finds a game more stimulating than real life give-and-take with her children. What about seeing the joy in a child’s eyes when we read a book, the giggles we share, the bright hopes and dreams that they dare voice to us when we least expect it? We miss opportunities for hugs and kisses because we cannot seem to shake this feeling of being stuck and want to check our phones instead.

Wedge that Divides Us

Deteriorating family life is the price we are paying for the new digital world we live in. Our children squeal as they run in the grass while we are checking our phones and only look up between texts. They call out to us to watch them but know that in a minute we will be looking down again. Husbands and wives crave a kind word, a warm smile, a gesture that shows that we care. Yes, we nod, we are listening but each of us knows the truth. As soon as we can, we turn back to our devices. There is this wedge that divides us, that doesn’t allow us to give all that we have to give. Relationships suffer; we feel lonely and some may look elsewhere for love.

Keep your phone off at mealtimes. Engage your sons and daughters. Look into your spouse’s eyes while speaking.

You can make a decision right now to better your relationships and reconnect with your loved ones. Keep your phone off at mealtimes. Engage your sons and daughters. Look into your spouse’s eyes while speaking. Talk to your families while driving in the car. Create sacred time where it is only you and those around you. You will discover the beauty of family. You will teach your children that love means being present with both body and soul. You will nurture a listening heart that will touch generations to come.