Join us for Book Art on March 30

Device-Free Days Help Us Connect

 

The Family Board Meeting

A book and a simple idea gave me the motivation and space to more deeply connect with my child last week and I am truly grateful. There are times when a small step to the side is all the perspective shift we need to drastically change our behaviors.

I am, by no means, anti device. It’s hard to imagine life without them at this point. I hope I can, however, become significantly more intentional about why and when I am using them. I do not pick up a drill or lawn mower and then wonder if there is something I could do with them to pass the time because my other tools were not designed to be so addictive that I grab them before I know why.

I attended an entrepreneurs conference last month that was a shock my system needed. One of the cultural norms the group adopted was no phone usage in group settings. We all still had our phones on us and if we needed to make a phone call or send an email we could leave the group and sneak off to a hallway but at meals, busses, activities, round tables, etc., we held this sacred and for the most part everyone abided by it. In that week I learned to live in awkward silence again, I learned to feel my way through those first few questions to find common ground with someone.

Not having the easy out meant forging ahead, often to deep and meaningful conversations I can say with certainty I would not have had with my old habits. I cried with a woman on the shuttle bus to dinner, who shared fears about family and business from a perspective different than my own. I laid the groundwork for what I believe will be lifelong friendships with Canadian software business owners and southern finance guys that I am not sure I would have ventured beyond professional conference banter with otherwise. I connected with parents from various countries and business sectors, all of us living the same struggles of balancing business and family life.

That balance is a problem that I used to think primarily plagued business owners. But, thanks to the work homing device in our pockets (or more often our hands), almost everyone is now afflicted with the inability to ever truly turn off our work brains. In just a week, I learned how much less stressful my day felt by being more intentional about my phone and computer usage.

Many of the people who are part of this [conference] group are thought leaders in their field and have published books that, if you are a business book nerd like me, you likely know. The last day on the book table I noticed a one called “The Family Board Meeting.” Riding the high of a week full of relearning how to do things with intention, a book designed to help bring that focus to parenthood was pretty appealing.

I read it on my flight home from another trip last week and could not wait to employ this simple idea. In short it’s a:

  • Phone free
  • Focused outing
  • With one child (if you have multiple)
  • Every 90 days to connect and realign

I don’t want to divulge everything because I hope you’ll buy the book to support the author for sparking this movement but I do want to share my experience of my first Board Meeting with Emma.

Our First Family Board Meeting

While my phone was with me to snap a few pictures and in case of an emergency, I had it in airplane mode. This is a practice I will start employing at dinners, meetings, and any time I need to really connect with people. It’s not just the immediate diversions of our phones that take our heads elsewhere, it’s the groundwork we lay for future actions because of them. The way we think about the response to the email or caption for the instagram post. Not having the pressing need to check or respond is liberating. While we’ve all had our phone die or done device free dinners, setting the intent of this being focused on your child makes a world of difference. They pick the outing, they pick the meal, they guide the conversation.


This was, without a doubt, one of my top three outings with my kid. I learned more about our relationship and her behavior than I have in the past six months. We typically last one-two hours at the Franklin Park Conservatory (her pick) and I had to make her leave after five. There were so many special moments we shared that I know would not have happened without my full attention. It breaks my heart to think of the one’s I’ve missed by being in the room but not being fully there over the past few years.

She spent the whole time in line for lunch hugging me and telling me she loved me. She was (mostly) amazing with other kids. She was as engaged with me as I was with her. That realization is really what this is for and, as hard as it is to admit, I think that is always the case. 


I honestly couldn’t believe that five hours had passed myself because my whole self was living in that moment and not somewhere else. What really shocked me was ballet class that night. If I am being honest, she has not been the most attentive student, but I watched her listening to the teacher and following along perfectly.

Our lives are not possible without screens and devices. I am on my laptop right now while she’s playing in the living room. That’s just a fact of life for parents that work from home or parents who bring their work home or parents needing to fit their own personal stuff in around being parents. What’s different is my focus is fully on my work and not on my guilt for working when I should be with her. She is focused on her play and not trying to slam my laptop shut because she was shown love and appreciation from her parent today and feels secure in that fact in this moment. It’s also worth mentioning that she never requested screen time today while I was abstaining myself.

A lot of my stress, and I think many people can relate to this, comes from feeling like I have so much going on that it’s unfair to those other obligations or people to not spread my focus around lest they feel ignored. It’s actually the exact opposite. It’s unfair to those obligations, other people, and myself to give anything less than my full attention to doing one thing well.

At a minimum I would encourage you to try a day with your children with your phones off, with the intent to be fully focused on them. Treat it like a mediation. When you notice your mind wandering, bring it back to them. We’ve conditioned ourselves to believing we need to be reachable at any moment. I promise you that if you go dark for five hours, you will be okay, and you might discover a path to a more meaningful relationship with your child.

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Josh Quinn is the co-founder of Tigertree, Cub Shrub and a girl named Emma. When he isn't busy with store or parenting tasks you can find him in over his head at a house construction or vintage vehicle restoration project.