10/19/2012 08:02 EDT | Updated 12/18/2012 05:12 EST

Addressing Family Issues in a Fast-Paced World


Technology has been a great help to the family in so many ways. In the day-to-day we are able to reach one another, coordinate calendars, find homework answers or after school programs more easily and more quickly. But we are also inundated with emails, text messages, phone calls, social media prompts whenever, wherever.

The volume of communication has grown immensely over the past 10-15 years and as a result we have less relaxing, nurturing quality time to share with family members than we did before. People cross the street, travel, sit at the table alone and with one another on their PDAs. Many don't fully engage in the moment or with others while multi-tasking to respond to all these communications nor do they give themselves down time to digest the information of the moment.

The result?

1) The anxiety of having to meet everyone's expectations for the deadline of "now." We have created a culture of immediate responses and turn-around time where the next beep, buzz or ring and our subsequent reaction both interrupts and trumps the moments we spend with loved ones.

2) We are training ourselves and our kids to multi-task and expect immediate responses. We not only demonstrate and nurture behaviour that takes away from the idea of family time, we demonstrate and nurture expectations that say things shouldn't take time, that it's reasonable to expect immediate responses.

The danger?

The biggest issues facing families today are not solved overnight. Things take time. They take work. They're anything but instantaneous.

What are these issues?

They're separation and divorce, mental health issues and medical issues -- and more often than not, they're intertwined at some point in time.

As a family mediator dealing with separation and divorce issues, people I see in the midst of these transitions frequently encounter other issues related to mental health and well-being as a result of the stress and struggle. Likewise, family mental and medical health challenges can result in marriage breakdown.

The degree to which I'm seeing this has grown with each passing year. In the face of these interconnected issues, help is traditionally offered in silos, requiring many steps to find support for each specific issue even though these topics often overlap.

Recognizing our society's decreasing patience and growing need for immediate results, if finding help is a long process, what chance do we have that more and more families will pursue the effort with each passing year?

If we want families to get the help and support they need, we need to make it faster and easier for them to find that help. While we can't speed up the time it takes to properly address the issues facing a family, we can speed up the process of finding out how to begin with new models.

After that, we can each play a role in removing the stigma of openly discussing the challenges millions of Canadians are experiencing.

Imagine how quickly people could find help if they learned over time that openly discussing family struggles was just as acceptable as it's become to interrupt conversations with spouses and children in order to answer a text message.

Stephen Rosenfield is a Toronto Family Mediator and Founder of Canada's first ever Family Support Expo taking place at the International Centre on Saturday October 20th and Sunday October 21st.