Life in the 21st century can get pretty hectic. Most people fill their days to the overflowing with jobs, commuting, kids’ activities, fitness goals, food preparation, home and garden maintenance, house chores, and more. Sometimes it almost feels like there is barely any time left to enjoy our families, and that can feel like a real loss.
If you are like me, you might wish you could just take a deep breath and slow things down a little. I am often inspired by the kind of life depicted in books and movies set in days gone by, and by stories told aloud about generations past – our grandparents and great-grandparents.
It seems that family life simply was different in the days of our ancestors, and that they even were less stressed. There are plenty of things they did back then that we do not do anymore, but maybe we should.
Let’s take a look:
1. Families ate meals together. Today’s helter-skelter schedules often make family mealtimes difficult to achieve, but just imagine the benefits of doing so. Spending time together, practicing social and conversational skills, and learning about one another’s passions and challenges might strengthen family bonds and help members grow as individuals.
2. Reading was a common pastime. Consider the benefits of reading — literature, pulp fiction, how-tos, classics, non-fiction, newspapers, westerns, mysteries, romances, memoirs and biographies — as an alternative to other forms of entertainment. Reading almost anything is useful for developing and maintaining language and critical thinking skills.
3. Neighbors got to know neighbors. The people next door, down the block, the next farm over, and around the corner all have distinct personalities, strengths and quirks. We might become lifelong friends or we might keep them at arm’s length. They could turn out to be courteous and neighborly, or thorns in our side. But whatever they are like, we will never know if we do not give them more consideration than a cursory nod while we’re setting trash out by the curb once a week.
4. Families and friends played games together. A game of Monopoly, chess or crazy eights is a rewarding way to spend time with a loved one. Children learn about strategy, good sportsmanship and decision-making. Adults of all ages keep their wits sharp and their focusing abilities strong. And games are just plain fun!
5. People spent time with extended family. Getting to know a great aunt or a second cousin once removed is a great way to learn about family history and feel a sense of belongingness. Connecting with family members old and young enhances connectedness, instills familial pride, and creates valuable memories. Families are more geographically scattered than they were in days gone by, but that challenge can be offset by the ready accessibility of modern transportation.
6. People wrote and received letters. Letter-writers of all ages could benefit from the practice of language arts, from spelling to composition to story-telling. How uplifting it would be to find something besides bills and junk mail in the mailbox, and what joyous anticipation in awaiting a reply from a cherished friend!
7. Families worked together. Group endeavors like raking leaves, tending a garden, washing dishes, cleaning the house, preparing meals, washing cars, caring for pets and livestock, and even doing errands all can turn into a win-win situation. Shared effort and goals can teach kids about the satisfaction of achievement and can give parents and older siblings the opportunity to serve as partners, leaders and mentors.
8. Active outdoor recreation took place in backyards and neighborhood parks. Long-distance destinations and cruise ships and theme parks are enjoyable. But in between those opportunities, it is an excellent idea to throw a ball or a Frisbee around on the lawn, play hopscotch on the sidewalk out front, ride bikes, play tag, fly kites and swing at badminton birdies.
9. Families were friends with whole families. When my mother and father went visiting, I went along. Sometimes the kids there were older or younger than me, but I made do. Looking back, I realize that the adults had to make do when their spouse’s best friend wasn’t married to their ideal friend, either. Of course, every family member should have the opportunity to spend time with their own choices of friends, but the social flexibility learned from spending time with a wide variety of people can be an enriching experience.
10. People talked face-to-face. In this day of social media and texting, imagine how refreshing a sit-down conversation now and then would be. Taking the time to focus on the person or people in the room, hearing their unique voices and accents and manners of speaking, seeing their body language, and sharing a physical presence, all adds up to a deeply personal method of communication with others.
We live in the modern age and cannot return to the days of old. Perhaps we would not even want to. But it might not be a bad idea to pull over into the slow lane every once in a while, try doing some of the things we do not do anymore, and enjoy life the way our ancestors once did.
What would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the section below: