Tag Archives: marriage

Cellphone Use as Infidelity in Parenting

A recent study published in the Pediatrics Journal describes how parents use their cell phones while in restaurants with their children. First the facts: most parents “used some kind of mobile device, either continuously or intermittently or at the end of the meal. Of the 55 groups observed in the study, only 15 had no device in play.” More surprisingly, 16 caregivers used their phones the entire time they were at the restaurant. This means there are 15 caregivers at each end of the scale, with the other 25 using cell phones intermittently.

This report from the study makes me sad: “The girl keeps eating, then gets up to cross the room to get more ketchup. Caregiver is not watching her do this; she is looking down at the phone…Still no conversation … Now girl’s head appears to be looking right at caregiver, and caregiver looks up but not at girl…”

I don’t believe that checking a text message while you are eating with your children is going to ruin their development, but mealtimes used to be one space kids could count on spending quality time with grown-ups. The importance of this time is demonstrated by studies which show that children perform better when meal times are regular and uninterrupted.

The timing of this study delighted me because of how it connects with what I have been reading this week: The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. In this book, the author compares our excessive use of technology to infidelity: a suitable word to describe parents who are more faithful to their phones than their children:

“Daydreaming” was once the temptation of romantics who knew their imaginations could disengage from the local scene and contemplate what life might be like somewhere else. Today it threatens to become a way of life for a society whose technology so easily wags it by the tail. The great advantage of a Facebook friendship, of course, is that it is so easy. I get to choose who I want to “friend” and whose friendship requests I respond to. We gather around our common interests, share the stuff we want others to know, and log off when we feel like it. In many ways what we have is connection without obligation. But intimacy without commitment is what our society has traditionally called “infidelity.” As with adultery in marriage, the problem of infidelity isn’t so much that it breaks a rule as it is that it destroys the fabric of trust that sustains a healthy community. (In a troubled marriage, no one feels this more intensely than the kids.) If our relationships with other people do not entail responsibility and obligation, they are easily reduced to self-serving transactions in a marketplace where everyone else is always trying to sell us something—or worse, to sell us themselves. Such a commodification of life denies in practice the fundamental claim of God’s economy—that all is gift and life is a mystery of divine love.

When I preach to families about technology I always encourage them to put their phones away during mealtimes. Its an easy thing we can do to honor our kids and encourage the development of positive social skills.


How Big is Your Drip Line?

This week I have been enjoying the book The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.  Based off Psalm 1, he uses the metaphor of a tree to describe the stable life.

Look at a tree on the landscape out your window and you will notice that it is shaped something like a geyser, reaching up in the single column of a trunk to spray out in limbs, most of them bending back toward the ground. Follow the downward slope of those bending branches as if they were the fluid spray of the geyser, and you can sketch out a circumference on the ground around the trunk of any tree. That circle is called the “drip line.” Without digging below the surface, it offers a pretty good sketch of how far away from a tree its roots reach for the water and nutrients it needs to flourish. Trees vary a great deal in size, and any tree, given the time, can extend its reach through growth. But it is important for the life of a tree that its extension above the surface not exceed its growth below. Stability depends on a tree knowing that its root system beneath the surface limits its capacity to send out limbs and produce fruit. In short, everything depends on the drip line. For people on the go, the root system that a drip line traces may feel more like a limit than a gift.

As a young father, I often feel like the boundaries placed on my life limit my freedom, but this metaphor reminds me that by raising my children in a Godly way, I am actually expanding my root system. To put it simply: these boundaries are expanding my capacity to produce fruit! But don’t just take my word for it:

Paul Wilkes…reflects on his resistance to limits as a young person, saying, “I bridled at restraints; I moved again and again. There was always something more out there I wasn’t finding.” For Wilkes, this led to a midlife crisis about the true meaning of freedom. “I looked upon married life and children as punishingly restrictive and certainly not a path to holiness or heroism,” he confesses. “After my devoted attempt to be a man of the world, I swerved onto other paths, believing I needed to live with the poor, then to be a monk, do some work of great value to humankind. Something out of the ordinary.” All of this frenetic searching eventually led Wilkes to what he calls a “desperately unhappy existence.” Free to pursue any life he could imagine, Wilkes found himself unable to really live.Considering the practice of stability some two decades after this crisis, Wilkes is able to name how his own salvation has depended on accepting the limits of marriage. “With two sons embarking on their teenage years and a working wife, my freedom of movement is severely restricted, my own desires secondary at best. Yet I experience some of the richest days of my life.” No longer free to do whatever he wants, Wilkes sees that he is free to love particular people whose needs he knows. To be sure, that circle of people is limited, circumscribed by the drip line of his life. But as he establishes roots of love, Wilkes can see that he is now able to grow. The boundary lines of his life and love expand as his roots grow deeper.

This book won’t stop prodding me where it hurts, insisting that the grass on the other side of the fence is just that, more grass. In the long run, it won’t taste better than this grass, and the hassle of getting stuck in–or addicted to going through–barb-wired fences is just not worth the bother.

So how big is your drip line? Is it growing as you commit to a place, and to loving the people in that place? Or is it shrinking because you run away from your problems…