This photo has been making the rounds on Facebook lately:
I'll be honest - I didn't find it all that funny.
I don't fault the person who created it, nor the people who posted and reposted it. But instead of making me giggle, it made me think - does it really have to be that way? Because one very big reason that people will laugh at a picture like that, is because it rings true. They see something of themselves, or their families, in it. Perhaps not quite so extreme, but I'm sure there are millions of families out there (especially those with teens) that feel as if they see the top of their kids heads more often than their faces, as they lean forward, intent on texting their friends or reading the latest must-read tweets or Facebook updates.
Does it really have to be that way?
I look around at so many things that most people in our culture consider to be "the norm." Maybe not ideal, maybe not even desirable, but many don't question them because it seems to be "the way it is." People don't sit down and eat together very often. Kids have a zillion different clubs, sports, and activities that turn parents into taxis. Everyone has a phone on them every second of the day so they don't miss out on one single thing that happens to their friends... ever. They are constantly connected, constantly distracted. People used to talk about how much TV their family watched with a slight tinge of guilt or worry if it might be too much. Now things are far more complicated. We bring our TVs with us, everywhere we go, and they aren't just TVs anymore. They are little computers and communication devices, making disconnection from the world of peers, pressure and drama nearly impossible. Home is no longer the safe haven for those having a rough day. The complexities of peer interactions follow them everywhere they go and connection with the family seems to be fading away into obscurity.
Does it really have to be that way?
Perhaps I am naive because my kids are still young enough to believe their parents are the greatest people in the world, followed very closely by their siblings, and probably tied with various members of their extended family. It is easy for me to look into our future and think, "We'll be different. We won't let those things rule our lives the way other people do. We'll do it right."
But will we? Am I kidding myself?
The truth is, I don't really know. I'd like to think that we are going to sidestep some of those issues of family disconnectedness because my husband and I both place a high value on family connection. I'd like to think we will always make time for dinners together and keep outside commitments in their place as being secondary to the family. I'd like to think we'll keep our kids free from the slavery of electronics until we feel they are old enough for the responsibility, and then create boundaries to make sure those things don't dominate their lives. I'd like to think our kids won't be so obsessed with peer relationships and fitting in because we're doing things a little bit differently.
I suppose I won't know the answers to those questions until we cross those bridges, but I'll admit, I'm optimistic. If I'm honest, I do believe it is possible to raise a family that doesn't fall victim to all the pitfalls of our popular culture. Not that we will be perfect and not face common problems and challenges along the way. But we've gotten pretty adept at questioning the norm the last few years, so why stop now? Why assume that my kids will be sullen, argumentative, peer-obsessed creatures in 10 years. Why not assume that things can be different - that for us, it doesn't have to be that way, if we make the right choices along the way.