Sharing Life Moments with Parents While Apart

Hygge for divorced parents with young children

— Overview —

This project involves hygge, Kinect and bringing divorced parents and children together in a natural and spontaneous manner.

Problem: How can a divorced parent foster a continued relationship and contact his/her child when they are not together while embodying the concept of hygge?

Hygge: The Danish word hygge (pronounced hoo-guh) is most commonly translated as coziness but carries a deeper meaning. It has been described as conscious coziness, pursuing everyday happiness, togetherness, relaxation, comfort and indulgence. A common hygge setting involves being with family and friends, soft lighting, candles, hot drinks and sweets. A simple walk in the park, reading a good book or looking out a window into your garden can also be hygge. As with coziness, individuals experience hygge in many ways. Hygge is ingrained in Danish culture, and is partly why Denmark is consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world1. Since hygge is an inherently Danish concept, the focus of this project is on Danish parents and children. I would like to note that I am not Danish and do not assume anything of their culture. I apologize for any mistakes I may have made in my understanding of hygge or Danish culture.

Divorce in Denmark: Divorce, or separation in general, impacts the parent-child relationship. Joint custody is prioritized in Denmark2  with 69% of parents sharing custody3. After divorce, only 16% of children live with their fathers as their primary residence and 68% of children sleep over at the non-primary parent’s home regularly3. Divorce is a stressful situation and along with the change in family organization it has an immediate negative effect on the parent-child relationship and contact4. Negative effects have also been shown to be long-lasting and well into adulthood4.

Feeling involved in a child’s life is important for both the parent and child. Being apart for large periods of time can make a parent feel like they are missing out on their child’s development. Regular scheduled visits do not allow for spontaneous interaction with their child. Spontaneous moments of interaction give a sense of hygge between the parent and child.

I created a system where a parent and child can send each other video messages to keep up with each other lives. This was made for young children in mind.

— The System —

The system consists of a Kinect, a unity program and an electronic candle that is set up in both locations. Using a Kinect to create video messages that are sent out to a parent from the child or vice versa. Whenever the child feels like communicating with their parent they can easily send them a video message. It can be used for a variety of reason, for example, the child wants to show a craft or drawing they made at school, they learned a new dance, they have a question they want to ask their parent before they forget, etc. The parent can also send their own messages back to the child.

The videos are recorded and viewed using simple gestures that are easy for a child to learn. The system involves a passive and active interaction. The following sections discuss the components in detail.

The unity program, Hygge Moments, showing the different views. The simple views are allow for quick learning by a child. The pattern is a place holder and can be changed to any picture

Setting: This system is intended to set up in the hygge corners of the non-residential parent and child’s primary home. Since the system primary involves interacting with loved ones, it is most aptly set in a hygge corner.

Kinect: The system is controlled with a Kinect and gestures. There are no controls or hardware to learn to use this system, which is perfect for young children. A simple gesture is enough to interact with they system. It also allows for quick interactions, as young children tend to be easily distracted. A wave ‘hello’ to the parent will start recording the video through a unity program name Hygge Moments. When the child is done he/she waves ‘good bye’ to stop recording the video. The video is immediately sent to the parent (this was not implemented in the final prototype).  An outstretched arm with open palm will play the video until completion. The parent can then send their own video back with a wave gesture.

Electronic candle powered by an arduino

Electronic candle: Candles are present in most Danish homes and are considered essential for hygge. A candle is simulated using an Arduino and colored LEDs. When the Kinect detects the child’s presence it sends a signal to the parent’s candle to flicker like a flame, and vice versa. This provides the feeling that the child/parent are present and included in each other’s lives. They can also see if the parent or child is there before sending a message. The candle flickers differently when a message is sent, as an indicator. This signal system brings an additional layer of hygge and would not feel out of place.


— Concept Sketches —

My initial brainstorming centered around bringing people together, recreating a hygge away from home or incorporating hygge in atypical situations. My final idea stemmed from the dissertation Consuming Hygge at Home: Perception, Representation, Practice by Johnathan Bean5. Bean interviews a Danish woman, Karin, who describes her office as a hyggekrog (hygge nook), not because the physical space is hygge, but it is where she communicates with her family in the US.

“This is where she sits down at times of day when she considers it likely that she will find her family members in the US online. With few exceptions they do not schedule chats, but rather rely on a sort of forced serendipity, so Karin is not so much cornering hygge as she is trying to catch it, which maps neatly onto some of the more romantic explanations of hygge”5

I loved the idea that connecting with people who are physically not present can be hygge. I came up with several sketches based on this idea including hygge with people where traditional means of communication are difficult (out at sea, in prison) or with people who have moved away.

My final sketches are shown below.

Refinement sketches. Playing with interactions
Interaction for the final idea

— Takeaways —

The goal of this project was to give parents and children the opportunity to share in spontaneous communication and to feel like they are part of each other’s lives while physically apart. Hygge naturally fits into solutions to this subject.

The interactions in this system scratched the surface on the many possible interactions. A live streaming option for synchronous interaction would be interesting to explore. This would allow for shared activities. Shared activities could also be achieved asynchronously by having a back and forth interaction on an activity. If I was given more time to fully flesh out the possible interactions for the system and fully implement the project, it could be a fruitful endeavor.

— Links  —

Executable and Source

— References —

1 – Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2017). World Happiness Report 2017, New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
2 –
3 – Liversage, Anika & Ottosen, Mai. (2017). OUT OF TOUCH Understanding Post-divorce Relationships between Children and Fathers in Ethnic Minority Families. Nordic Journal of Migration Research. 7. . 10.1515/njmr-2017-0006.
4 – Albertini, Marco & Garriga, Anna. (2011). The effect of divorce on parent-child contacts. European Societies. 13. 257-278. 10.1080/14616696.2010.483002. 
5 – Bean, Jonathan Yorke. (2011). Consuming Hygge at Home: Perception, Representation, Practice. University of California, Berkeley, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2011. 3616203.