As in many families, we found that the grip of electronics in the lives of our children was becoming tighter. This was not a good thing. In the mornings, our children would claim that they were not hungry for breakfast so they could watch TV. Invariably, this led to a struggle to get everyone out of the house in time for work and school. When they boys returned home, they dropped their bags and ran straight to the family room to turn on the television. To their credit, our sons are multi-taskers: While watching TV, they would also play with various handheld electronic games. Needless to say, getting them to do their homework or come to dinner was a daily challenge.
Something had to be done. But what? How could we loosen the grip of technology, restore a bit of calm to our household, and get our boys to do their homework? Shabbat to the rescue! We are “religious” about our Erev Shabbat observance. Every Friday, the table is set with our best dishes. My partner, the family cook, prepares a delicious meal. I bring home not one but two loaves of challah from a great New York City bakery. Our children lead the Shabbat blessings. Sometimes the meal is a bit rushed because some combination of us are going to temple or to soccer practice; other times, it is a leisurely and relaxed meal, with no one rushing off and a nice bottle of wine for my partner and I.
Like many families, it can be challenging to make Saturday feel like Shabbat. Sometimes I take our older son to the Shabbat morning minyan at our temple, but the rest of the day is often spent shuttling the children around to play dates and sporting events. How could we make Shabbat, from Friday evening through Saturday evening, feel a bit more special?
My partner and I decided to accomplish two goals – limit the use of electronics during the week and make Shabbat feel more special. During the school week, there would no television or electronic games. Friday afternoon, with the arrival of Shabbat, our sons could watch TV, and we’d return their handheld games to them. To be honest, we were not sure how this would work. We braced ourselves for a revolt and even anticipated that we would cave in to relentless whining and protests.
To our surprise, this did not happen. The boys, while not thrilled with the prospect, put up very little resistance. I wonder if they sensed that electronics were the cause of some of the tension in the house. I even like to imagine that they were happy to have more time to interact with each other, not to mention their parents. Perhaps they saw this not as draconian but as a relief. Now, on Shabbat, the boys are thrilled to watch their favorite programs on TV and to play their video games, though on busy Saturdays, they only have time for TV and electronics in the morning and perhaps in the late afternoon and evening. Their weeks are quite full, and I believe they need – and deserve – some “down time.” We still have plenty of family time.
Next month, we are coming up on the first anniversary of what we feared might be a short-lived experiment. Our weekdays are much calmer. We are able to get out of the house in the morning with greater ease and there is much less drama over homework in the afternoons. And now our boys associate Shabbat with something they enjoy. I appreciate that for many families, “unplugging” one day a week on Shabbat means more time together. But for our family, a little “plugging in” on Shabbat means shalom bayit (family harmony) for the other six days of the week.