Jennifer is always texting, even during dinner. I’d really like to have an uninterrupted conversation occasionally, particularly at meals. I feel as if she’s never fully focused on us.
She says: I can multi-task, what's the problem?
I have a lot of people who need to get hold of me, often for work. I can multi-task and check texts and listen to Mark at the same time. I don’t see the problem.
What do they do?
One of the greatest gifts we can give our loved ones is our undivided attention. As Pope Francis recently wrote to married couples, “Listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. … Do not be rushed, put aside all of your own needs and worries, and make space.” The pope lamented: “How often we hear complaints like: ‘He does not listen to me’” and ‘Even when you seem to [be listening], you are really doing something else.’” (Joy of Love, no. 137)
When Mark wants to talk, Jennifer actually is doing something else. She’s texting her colleagues at work. Jennifer may think she can multi-task. But multi-tasking is really just trying to do two things at the same time. More likely than not, neither will be done well. Work deserves our full attention during working hours. Our family deserves our full attention when we are home.
Employers feel free to encroach more and more on family time because technology has made workers more available. A boss or colleague who would never have dreamed of calling another employee at home after they left the office sees nothing wrong in texting or emailing. But it’s important to maintain a healthy work/life balance. We work to provide a good life for ourselves and our families. Work shouldn’t prevent us from having a good life. A healthy ordering of priorities is first God, then family, and lastly work.
Jennifer and Mark might want to institute a no-technology rule, at least for mealtimes. No matter how important Jennifer’s work is, she can carve out an hour of uninterrupted time with her husband. Mealtime gives family members a chance to strengthen the emotional connection between them, nourishing hearts and souls as well as bodies. A few decades ago, the question was whether to put the television on or answer the telephone during dinner. The easy answer was no. The same thing applies with smartphones. Technology is meant to serve us. We don’t have to be at the service of our own technology.