Phones, Tablets, Other Pacifiers, and Thanksgiving Dinner: How To Be Present With Yourself and Your Family In The Moment

Happy Thanksgiving to you! I hope you have a wonderful day!

To kick off the holiday season, my husband and I went to see Polar Express last night. Afterwards, we went to look at a Christmas light display set up at a local park called Sunset Hill Farm. You drive through the light display on a paved path. It’s really cool and always puts us in the holiday spirit.

The movie was full with people. There was a set of four teenagers and one parent next to us in the theater. They were talking throughout the movie and on their phones the remainder of the time. Distracting. 

I kept thinking, “Why would you bother going to see a movie when you have no intention of watching the movie, cannot sit still and can’t be present in the moment to watch the movie?” I was distracted by them because they were distracting.

During the light show, I watched cars of people drive by and saw the glowing screens in the car. I asked myself a similar question, “Why would you bring your family to see a light display if they are watching the light display on their phone and not looking at the lights at the park?”

Sometimes it makes no sense to me, this world of multi-tasking with being semi-present everywhere but not being fully present anywhere.

I consider myself lucky because I lived through a time when there was no social media and a cell phone was called a car phone and you used it to call someone else if you were in an emergency situation or running late.

That being said, I struggle with being distracted by my phone at times too.

And I wish I could say it was just teenagers. It’s nearly all ages. Most people use their phone in the way a baby needs a pacifier to chew on when they are teething. Children need their parents phone or tablet to keep them calm, quiet and pacified. Teens need their phones to be in contact with their friends on social media and know what’s going on in their world on social media. Adults and senior citizens are no different than the teens.

Social media has created a distracted world where people want to be in the virtual world with their friends and connections they have there, along with being in real world with their family and friends.

Just because we can do both doesn’t mean we should do both.

The truth is that it doesn’t really matter when you were born. We are all easily distracted by this. The benefit to being born before this technological interruption is that you are able to remember what life was like before all of this distraction entered our lives. You wanted to know what was going on? You saw your friends at school or in your neighborhood and found out the 411 there. You didn’t have a device that made it convenient and easy to see what’s going on with your friends AND be with your family at the same time…all in real time.

The older I get the more distraction I see because I’m noticing younger generations aging that grew up with a phone in their hand from their youth and they are now the upcoming generation. 

Teens, right now, seem to be the worst offenders because they don’t know a life without distraction and their phones. They want to be present online and with their families because that’s what they’ve learned growing up.

The distraction and addiction to the phones was taught to them by my generation and older, who are also addicted to their phones but remember life before distraction. 

Consider, this holiday season, just for an hour or two on the actual holiday, taking off your watch and turning off your phone and try being present with your family. This sounds easy, but it’s not. Between watches and phones present at the table, this is a hard ask. 

Try to imagine a holiday meal with no phones sitting off to the side of the plate or people checking notifications on their watches. The larger the family gathering, the bigger the ask would be. It’s hard for me to picture it.

This is what I’m doing this entire day. I’m going to take my watch off during our Thanksgiving dinner and enjoy my meal. My phone will be upstairs. I’m going to take the day off of checking email entirely. It’s small steps like this and repeating them consistently that can lead to big change. I’m going to ask my husband to do the same thing I’m doing for the meal: No watch or phone at the dinner table for the 20 minutes it’ll take us to eat our meal. I want to just be present with myself and him during the meal. I want to be present during any conversations we have, and I want him to be present with me as well.

Instead of using your phone, watch or tablet to pacify yourself during the meal, like a baby chewing on a pacifier, maybe try being present with just your family or friends instead of trying to be in a virtual world and in the real world at the same time.

If you’re having a virtual Thanksgiving, then do the opposite of what I’m doing today. Be present with your family on the Zoom Thanksgiving dinner, or the people on your discord server and just be there. Look people in the eye when they are talking and be present and listen.

If you need your phone, tablet or watch by your side as a way to dissociate and pacify yourself to get through the meal with hard-to-be-with family members, then maybe you should be asking yourself why you’re there at all? If you’re with people that are that hard to be with and you need any kind of pacifier to get you through the meal, ask yourself if you want to be there at all.

This doesn’t just apply to technology. A pacifier could be alcohol, drugs, or TV. It doesn’t have to just be tech, social media and the internet. Your pacifier could be a combination of all three.

Try being really present with your family and see what comes up for you. By being fully present in your world of choice, solely virtual or real world, you get a chance to notice your need to use your pacifier of choice. Then you can ask yourself why you need the pacifier? Why do you want to dissociate with it?

For me, this would be because my family and my in-laws are hard to be around because they make me uncomfortable. If my mother is criticizing me at the meal for what I’m eating or how much weight I’ve lost or gained, I’d want to pull out my phone and scroll or maybe have a glass of wine to numb the pain of the emotions I feel about whatever she’s projecting onto me. Notice the urge to pacify yourself and ask yourself what’s behind the need to pacify. In this example, it’s my mother. Guess who’s NOT coming to Thanksgiving this year? My mother. My in-laws either. 

Be present, notice the situation and the urge to want to dissociate with your pacifier of choice, take as many pacifiers away as you reasonably can and then take the data you collect on your own during the meal and ask yourself: How can I be more present and truly enjoy my meal next year? Are there people who really bother me that make me want to pacify myself and check out? Why did I want to get on my phone when my mother-in-law is telling me that I need to talk more during the meal? Maybe NOT having my MIL at my Thanksgiving table would make it easier for me to feel good about myself and be truly present at the Thanksgiving table. Then take steps the following year to put yourself in a better situation and set yourself up for success without pacifiers.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season! I hope you take the opportunity to see what’s happening without pacifiers present so that you can make the next holiday even better for yourself and pacifier-free (or as close to pacifier-free as you can reasonably get).

Sarathlete

Reflecting on What I AM Grateful For With My Family Of Origin and My In-Laws, A Bit About 12 Step Programs With ZERO Substance Abuse Present, and Gratitude at Thanksgiving and Beyond

I have a fraught relationship with by my family of origin (my mom, dad and paternal grandmother) and my in-laws (brother-in-law, sister-in-law, mother-in-law, deceased father-in-law and deceased step-father-in-law.)

Yesterday, I watched Rich Roll’s podcast interview with Whitney Cummings on YouTube.

Here’s a link to the video if you want to watch it on YouTube:

Rich Roll’s Podcast episode on YouTube with Whitney Cummings

While I learned many new resources and ideas from the video, one stuck out with Thanksgiving being tomorrow and that is how can I be grateful for what my parents gave me as a child? In my anger at them for how they treated me, I often overlook the gifts they did give me. So both of my parents are massive workaholics, and the question Whitney Cummings presents is what gifts and opportunities did your parents give you or did you learn or glean from their faults, in their case it was workaholism. 

(A super long side note for reference that should probably be it’s on blog post:

Whitney Cummings talks 12 step programs like ACA, CODA, Al-Anon in more detail than any other guest I’ve ever heard of on the Rich Roll Podcast do. Rich Roll is open about his use of substance abuse and talks about 12 step through the lens of a substance abuser. This interview with Whitney Cummings was the first time I’d ever heard him interview someone who talked about growing up in a family without substance abuse present. I loved this because I’d always assumed 12 step wasn’t for me because my parents didn’t abuse substances and neither do I. I remember the first time I’d ever found or heard about ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families) and thought it only applied to my husband because he is literally an Adult Child of (two) Alcoholics. For me, the “dysfunctional family” portion of the message of ACA gets buried. I had to really dig to find out that you can identify as an ACA without alcoholism or drug abuse. That was key for me entering 12 step and recovery: hearing that you can be involved in a 12 step program without the use of drugs or alcohol present in your life or your family of origin’s life. I feel the branding and messaging for ACA programs are weak and extremely hard to find for those of us who don’t abuse substances and who didn’t grow up with the families who used drugs and alcohol. Learning that the outcome of an adult child is the same whether drugs or alcohol were present or not present was crucial to me finding ACA. I feel like I would’ve found ACA at a much earlier age than 40 if there was more of an emphasis on the portion of their message that focuses on NO drugs or alcohol being present. There are still ISMS, like workaholism for instance. You’d have to be living under a rock to not have ever heard of 12 step for alcoholism. But 12 step for someone who zero substance abuse issues? I’d never heard of that before, and it makes me want to sing the praises (and downfalls) of programs like ACA from the rooftops because I think it could help a lot of people, and the best part is that IT’S FREE. All of these points are addressed in the podcast episode in the YouTube link above.)

Back to the actual blog post:

So, workaholism was present in my family. Zero substance abuse, but workaholism was my parent’s ISM. The question is how can I be grateful for the lessons I learned and traits I do have from my parent’s weaknesses. Instead of being angry at my family of origin, how can I be grateful for the good that did come out of bad? What are the good things that make me who I am today that came from my parents working all of the time? 

Gratitude quashes anger because it forces you to find the good in a bad situation. I’m not going to even visit the toxic positivity quotient of the gratitude equation in this blog post, but I do acknowledge that toxic positivity combined with gratitude can be negative. I should clarify here that I mean practicing gratitude daily. I don’t mean practicing gratitude solely on Thanksgiving day. I think gratitude on Thanksgiving day is wonderful, but I don’t believe it’s enough. 

In ACA, it’s SO easy to be angry at your family of origin. But, what good did you get from the bad from your family of origin? I’d say if you can figure this out, take the lesson and apply it to other areas of your life where you see nothing but anger. For me, that’d be my in-laws. Ironically, I couldn’t find much to be grateful for with my in-laws. It could be because I’ve let go of a lot of the anger at my parents, but I haven’t had as easy of a time letting go of my anger at my in-laws because it’s more recent and present in my mind than my family of origin.

Here’s my list I came up with this morning while I was reflecting on what I was grateful for from my family of origin (these are in no specific order of priority or preference):

  1. My parents working all of the time taught me how to be alone and on my own, which is something I value deeply. It’s given me the ability to be able to explore my life on my own without the need to wait for someone else to be around to go with me. I don’t miss out on experiences simply because I have no one to go with.
  2. My parents were always in non-traditional jobs that they did have. I think that’s why I never fit into a traditional 9-5 office job or felt comfortable there. Now I know why-because my parents didn’t model that for me.
  3. My parents always had a side hustle going no matter what their full time gig. This taught me to nurture other interests and not put all of my eggs into one basket. This lesson kept me curious.
  4. My love of going to see plays comes from both my mother. While my parents worked hard, they did find time to play with their hard-earned money. From my mother I often got the opportunity to go with her when she went to see the symphony or see the ballet in Chicago. My love of culture and art appreciation comes from her.
  5. I learned that it’s ok to go to a cultural experience alone and not wait for your partner to go with you just because the other partner is working or has no interest in going. This is kind of a duplicate of the first point and kind of separate.
  6. I owe my creativity and imagination to my parents working all of the time. I wouldn’t have learned how to come up with creative stuff to do had they not left me alone for 12 hours a day during the summertime.
  7. I owe my mental fortitude and mental toughness in endurance sports, or the ability to sit through long operas, to my workaholic parents because I learned how to get through long periods of time alone while they were at work both in the summer and after school. 

Interestingly, this is only part of the list. There’s a LOT more and also a LOT more that I’m grateful for beyond the workaholism. My parents had other flaws like making me feel like I was never good enough, as an example, and I’m grateful for the lessons and traits I see in myself as positives that I learned from their other flaws and imperfections. Some of the things that made me so angry at them are also things I’m grateful for because of what came as a result of the negative events. Gratitude helps you overcome anger. It’s helped me a lot.

I did attempt to try this same exercise towards my in-laws. My in-laws never accepted me for being me. I’ve always been the same super shy, quiet, introverted awkward girl who doesn’t drink excessively or enjoy partying at bars or socializing with large groups of people. I couldn’t be more different from my in-laws. I learned through ACA that, when trying to assimilate into another family of ACAs that opposition can be magnified and rejected. That experience happened to me. If anything, what I found in trying to apply the gratitude lesson to my in-laws, it made me more grateful for aspects of my childhood and more grateful for what I did get from my parents, despite my anger over how badly I perceived that they treated me. 

My list for my in-laws looks like this (again in no order of preference or importance):

  1. I’m grateful I did live with my mother-in-law and step-father-in-law because I learned what it was like to be poor and live in your own filth and squalor. My parent’s house was clean as a whistle. It was maybe too perfect.
  2. I’m grateful to my mother-in-law and step-father-in-law for giving me the option to come and live with them. My parents were very black-and-white thinkers, and they gave me the option to come and live with them when my parents rejected me. I needed a place to go, and I’ll always be grateful to them for that even though I don’t love the outcome of the results and what happened after I moved in with them.
  3. I’m grateful that my in-laws were hoarders because it truly taught me to be grateful for my parents Minimalism before Minimalism was a semi-popular movement.
  4. I’m grateful I for my husband’s siblings because I got the chance to experience what it was like to have siblings as well. This made me very grateful that I grew up as an only child.
  5. I’m grateful I got to experience the chaos and drama of a family that did grow up with two alcoholics because I can see that the outcome is the same whether or not drugs or alcohol abuse is present.
  6. I’m grateful I got to experience a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner through my in-laws with the Ritz cracker casserole, dried out turkey, canned cranberry jelly thing that comes out of a can, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy. This made me grateful that my parents never made that food, but I did get to experience a “normal” Thanksgiving through my in-laws.

I guess when I look at my in-laws and compare them to my parents, it makes me really grateful for my parents. I never fit in with my in-laws. My parents were more like me: quiet, thoughtful and very introverted. My in-laws are NOTHING like my parents. They are the exact opposite. What I love about my parents accepting for me was something I could never understand with my in-laws in that it was never ok to be me. This has always been present in my life, in that, I feel like I’m different than other people because I didn’t grow up in a “normal” world, and it makes it harder to find friends and people to click with. Being an only child isn’t normal because most people, even today, have siblings. So, I got exposure to what’s considered “normal” and I saw that I didn’t fit the “normal” mode, and I’m extremely grateful for that because it taught me not to conform which contributed greatly to my creativity. What I’m grateful for with my in-laws is that they rejected me and taught me I didn’t fit in and that it wasn’t ok to be myself. That made me fight for myself and know that I needed to be me because trying to conform has never served me.

This will be a very minessententional Thanksgiving. It’ll be me, my husband and our three dogs. That’s it. My parents hurt me deeply, and the first major rejection from them came at Thanksgiving when they threw me out of their house. I can be grateful for my parents from a distance. The same is true for my in-laws. I can’t stand to be around my in-laws to this day. I can be grateful for the lessons I learned from them, but that doesn’t mean I can stand to be in the same room with them.

What’s changed in all of this is me and my perception of how I felt about what had happened to me. I changed this summer. Neither my family of origin nor my in-laws have gone through 12 step work. So, while Thanksgiving itself hasn’t changed, how I feel and see Thanksgiving, in part through gratitude and in part through 12 step, is different this year than last year. And that is something I will always be grateful for. 

I may be angry that I didn’t find a 12 step program like ACA sooner because I do believe it would’ve served me very well early on, I know that I can’t carry around that anger. My gratitude that I do have for finding the program at 40 quashes the anger I have about not finding it sooner. My gratitude outweighs that anger.

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving. I know this time of year, the Holidays, can be difficult for anyone. Reach out at sarathlete@hotmail.com if you need help, are struggling, or you want someone to connect with. 

Sarathlete