Keeping the art of conversation alive

‘It’s good to talk’ was the slogan for a 1990s BT ad campaign. Sometimes I wonder if we are teaching our kids that lesson well enough.

Let me start by saying the photo above isn’t as bad as it looks.

It was taken during the kids’ post-dinner wind-down hour before bed, when they usually watch TV programmes together, the selection of which can be a challenge when you have eight and six-year-old sons and a daughter who isn’t yet four. When Kara wants to watch My Little Pony and the boys are itching for Top Gear, there isn’t much middle ground.

It’s an hour of compromise.

Sometimes we pack the boys off to watch something on the playroom TV or the computer. Often we insist on picking one programme each. But occasionally we will allow Kara to watch her shows while the boys plug their headphones into their tablets and watch Minecraft videos. Everyone gets to do what they want and it at least means we’re together as a family, even if we’re not talking.

When I was growing up, it used to be that we would all watch TV as a family. Or read a book. Or, as I did with my dad growing up (my mum worked nights), do crosswords together. There were fewer distractions such as iPads and social media to pull us away, so we talked more.

It’s something I’m acutely conscious of now. It’s good to talk. Do we do it enough?

It’s not just the kids, who spend as much time watching YouTube as they do TV – a pursuit which is frequently less sociable. It’s also us. Heather and I often spend our evenings in front of the TV while she catches up with work or does admin tasks, while I flit about on social media: Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, look something up on Wikipedia, Twitter, blog comments et cetera.

We’re usually doing (at least) two things at once, neither of them conversation. Too often one of us will say to the other, “You haven’t been listening to me, have you?”

Not great.

It’s something we’re working on. The two of us are trying to eat together at the dining table occasionally, rather than constantly wolfing it down in front of the TV. That’s easier said than done when dinner on a weeknight is rarely much before 8-8:30, but it’s something we want to work on.

More generally, we have a no-phones rule at the table (I’m the worst offender) and we try to all eat together whenever possible – for us, that’s generally weekends only – so we can have family chats over food. (That sounds so old-fashioned, doesn’t it?)

But the reality is that most of my conversations with the kids between Monday and Friday are a few minutes here and there, when they’re at their most tired. And what with homework and after-school activities, the kids themselves have plenty of things they need to do too, so it’s not like there’s much free time to begin with.

So much to talk about, so little time. It’s not great, but it’s the reality of being a working parent. And I’m luckier than many people as most days I do see them both in the morning and in the evening.

This places a premium on time during weekends and school holidays. At weekends I often take some combination of kids out with bikes and scooters – we get some exercise and natter over coffee and cake – and I really treasure day-trips where there is an opportunity to chat with a captive and undistracted audience for an extended period.

These are the times when it’s good to talk and we rarely have any trouble filling a long drive chatting away.

So maybe the art of conversation in our family isn’t dying after all. I’ll worry when we don’t have anything we can talk about any more. So, the teenage years, then …

Do you struggle to find time to talk with your kids? How do you ensure you do talk with them?


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