Relationally Lazy

I find myself criticizing parents who are distracted by their phones too much. It's easy for me to do, because I've never really put much stock in smart phones; and though I have one, it's a Windows Phone, so it's only a half-step up from a flip phone (which some of my friends still use). Type of technology aside, surely you've noticed the dad whose kids are hanging on his legs at the park, begging for attention while his face is buried in a cell phone. Or perhaps you've noticed the family at the restaurant, where everyone silently stares at devices until the food arrives? I find myself acutely aware of those folks, for better or worse, and think it's a real problem with our current society.

But as every critic must do, I turn the magnifying glass back on myself as much as I am aware enough to, and lately I have seen the distractions in my own life, particularly in pertaining to how I parent our kids. In doing so, and with more observation and consideration, I think I have found an even greater culprit to our distraction; maybe even the root cause of it all -- laziness. I think we are relationally lazy, and it's tearing apart society in subtle ways.

Here is an example I face almost daily: I'm home with the kids and they are playing together nicely. I relish in these moments, because then I get to work on something creative, or maybe even just do the dishes -- either way, it feels fulfilling. But eventually the kids get bored, and I need to engage with them. Typically this ends up with us at a park, but which one? The park with all the kids where they will find a friend to play with and I can sit quietly and read? Or maybe the one that they love with the zip line (a real place), which will require me to work more in pushing them back and forth on it? Then there's always that one that they both enjoy, but is pretty spread out, which makes it difficult to keep an eye on both of them as they choose opposite sides of the park to play in. Of course all of this is overshadowed by the thought that I would be asked over and over again to "be the dragon that eats princesses" and chase them around the park, up and down slides, under walk ways and across monkey bars. It all boils down to how much work am I willing to do to accommodate and/or engage with my children, a.k.a. - How lazy am I feeling right now?

I don't always act like it, but it is such a blessing to play with these two girls every day.

Cut yourself some slack, Rick, parenting is hard. Make your life as easy as you can, you may be thinking. Sure, there are times for that -- life is widely about balance. But I have to examine the frequency of my decisions, and in doing so, I'm finding that more often than not I choose the easiest (laziest) option.

Let's take this further: Imagine you are home with your wife and the kids are in bed. Which is easier: to turn on the TV and watch Netflix, or sit and talk? Which is better for your marriage? Again, sometimes it is nice to turn off your brain together and watch a crappy Christmas movie, but you can't do that all the time (certainly not two months after Christmas...or can you?).

I'll go one more step: You have about two minutes to yourself, waiting for Netflix to load or for the kids to put on their shoes before you go outside. Do you sit quietly and think, listen, clear your mind, pray? Or do you pull out your phone and check Instagram? Oh, how God could speak in these quick and subtle moments that we so freely give away! Much (or all of it) boils down, I think, to laziness.

It takes work to engage with your kids, your wife, nature, God. And we live in a world where comfort is king and work is mostly praised only when it makes you money. It's no wonder kids are so full of anxiety and marriages are falling apart. We don't put in the time to make these relationships healthy!

So after considering these thoughts the past few days, when I was faced with a decision of what to do with the kids today, I chose to take them to the zoo (we recently became members). It was a lot of walking (with an injured toe, I might add), I had to take a picnic lunch (as opposed to eating at home, which is easier), and took way more time than a normal park visit. But as we were playing in some lovely yellow leaves by a climbable sculpture of a camel, twice Ellie ran up to me and gave me a hug, totally unprompted. Though she is very affectionate, I knew it was because we had been playing together a lot the past hour or so -- as I had chosen to intentionally engage with them during this zoo visit -- and that this was a hug of appreciation and love. And I have to say, even if those hugs are the only reward I get for investing in my kids those few hours, it was well worth the cost.