By Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
While on a recent trip to Greece, my husband and I made a two-night layover in Rafina (the second busiest seaport town in the Athens area). The first night we spent there was Saturday, and our hotel was conveniently located about 4 blocks from the town center (square). After arriving in town at 10:30 p.m. we then decided to walk to the square and enjoy a late dinner.
Much to our surprise, the town square was alive with children, families playing and parents visiting friends while enjoying the cafes. The children were playing tag, kicking a soccer ball, and talking “best-friend” girl talk. Interestingly, both genders played together without an apparent agenda.
While it delighted both my husband and me, at the same time it brought back nostalgic memories of our childhoods. They were so different from the childhoods most of our children experience today.
The Rafina families were united by food, laughter, and friendship. The children were secure and ran back and forth between their friends and their parents. The parents knew the children who were playing with their kids and talked with them with as much ease as they spoke with their own children.
In the United States, we rarely see this behavior. Our children play inside on computer games, shoot “selfies” of what they want to be perceived as, and text people who aren’t with them. Our children have suffered a great loss when compared to the children in Rafina.
Most parents today try too hard to be their kids’ friends, and thus have sacrificed their duty of being parents. Today’s parents too often have lost the ability to say no, and rarely choose to spend family evenings socializing as a family group and/or with other families. Parents in the U.S. confuse giving their children stuff as being more important than giving them time. Work exhausts their time, and they choose not to interrupt the cycle for a night socializing with others face to face without texting or emailing. Americans have become vigilant about not missing something important at work, the office, or world happenings, but they are less vigilant about missing a strong family connection.
The community of Rafina has something invaluable to teach every American: “family” IS the center of life. If you lose your family, you lose a huge root system for all of your life.
I grew up like the Greek children I saw that night; most of the time my face had the same happy expression these kids had. My siblings and I, and our friends, knew we were loved. We were not hurried to grow up; we had security; and our family was at the core.
When was the last time you saw children playing freely with one another outside? How old were they? Do you hear sighs of boredom and frustration when your child is forced to spend time with the family and not use electronics? This should be a red flag that maybe we have been prioritizing stuff instead of giving our children some undivided time.
– Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever.