Monday, March 22, 2010

I'll say it again

While I feel like a broken record on some topics, I'm realizing that this particular one is one I've somehow missed blogging about. So, unless you know me in real life, you may wonder at the title. And the topic? Eating dinner together as a family. To our family, it is such a commonplace occurrence that we often don't give it a second thought. Both J. and I grew up with family dinners being a 7 days a week event and that is how we're raising our family. But every so often, I am reminded of how unusual we are for eating dinner together even once a week, much less all seven. After church yesterday, B. was recounting how, when his class was polled, only he and one other young man ate dinner together as a family with any regularity. I have to admit I am baffled. I don't understand how or what people eat if they don't sit down to dinner. When do they catch-up with each other and share the events of the day? How can a family even begin to try to have family devotions if they can't even eat together. I just don't get how not having a family dinner works.

I am not so clueless as to the reasons why families don't eat dinner together. It's too hard to get everyone to sit down; there are too many sports practices/music or dance rehearsals/classes that conflict with the dinner hour; no one wants to cook and it's easier just to heat-up some premade, convenience food. But these are self-fulfilling excuses. Of course a young child won't sit at the table if they never have a chance to learn how. If enough people put their foot down about events during the dinner hour, they would cease to be profitable and the offering body would stop. But, someone has to be the first to say, "We don't do activities over dinner." How difficult is it to heat a pot of water and cook enough pasta for everyone. Just because you're eating dinner together doesn't mean you have to make everything from scratch or that it has to be gourmet level cooking. Perhaps a family member would find they love cooking if they ever had a chance to experience it.

Does this sound a bit harsh? That's not how I mean it to sound, but I believe it is such an important part of family life that I get tired of excuses. When I was researching my presentation on meal planning, I came across some interesting statistics. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse did a study on family meals and the effects on adolescents. They compared adolescents who ate dinner on a regular basis with their families with adolescents who rarely ate at family dinners. Those who participated in family dinners:
• Had half the risk for substance abuse
• Were less likely to have friends who abuse drugs
• Experienced lower levels of stress and tension at home
• Were more likely to say their parents are proud of them
• Were more likely to say they could confide in parents
• Had better grades
• Were more likely to be emotionally content
• Had better eating habits
• Were at lower risk for thoughts of suicide
• Were less likely to try marijuana

The Nutrition Education Network conducted a similar study and their results were similar. Adolescents who ate dinner with their families were more likely to:
• Do better in school
• Have fewer behavior problems
• Not try drugs
• Be happy to have adults in their lives
• Have traditions created around food and meals
• Have more nutritious meals
• Better utilize time
• Be involved in family meal preparation

In both these studies, the only thing controlled for was eating meals together. Obviously, the simple act of sitting down to dinner together has a huge impact on the lives of our children.

If family dinners can have this much impact on the lives of our children, why don't more parents make an effort to have them? There are so many other things that parents make an effort to provide their children, often at great personal sacrifice (and miles and hours spent in the car), why can't they make the same type of effort for something that has proven, positive results in the lives of children?

As I was mulling over what I would write on this topic, the writer of another blog I read just posted on the same topic, with a link to a great article. Here is just a snippet from it:

"It is at home (domus) that human beings are — literally — "domesticated." It is during meals that they increase, not only "in stature," but also "in wisdom" (Luke 2:52). Here they acquire those patterns of affability, restraint, courtesy, and cultivated joy that prepare them for a wise life in a larger world.

In acquiring table discipline — which pertains to language and posture as well as eating — young human beings are instructed in the simple pleasures of what is called "conviviality." This literally means "living in common."

Indeed, it is arguable that the lessons learned at the family table are more fundamental to the pursuit of Wisdom than those learned in the classroom. It is at meals that souls are nourished, as well as bodies. It is largely from eating with the family that helpful information is conveyed and the foundational lines of character are formed.

In this setting, one gradually learns the art of the "inner check," as Irving Babbitt calls it. Restraint is in order. There are things that may not be done at table — and certain subjects never spoken of — and certain other things must be said or done at table.

Without this inner check of discipline, there is no chance of conviviality. The eater "conforms" to a standard, adopting as his own a "form" common to those who share the blessings of the meal. "

Please, if you don't have a habit of family dinners, make a resolution to start today. It doesn't have to be fancy. Also realize that it is a skill to be learned...for everyone. It may not feel comfortable at first; things may not go smoothly. But unless a skill is practiced, how is it to be learned? If your child told you they couldn't play a sport because they either didn't know how or because they were not as good as they wanted to be, would you allow them to stop for those reasons alone? Don't allow this same type of reasoning to stop from eating together as a family. Believe me, it's worth the effort, you'll be glad you did.

(Do you need encourage or practical help to make this happen? Please email me [ thecurryseven at sbcglobal dot net ], I'm happy to offer what assistance I can.)


LawMommy said...

This is such an important issue. I get so frustated with how over-scheduled everyone is.

Having dinner together is MORE important than any other activity. It is the ONE activity that all four of us do together every day. (I would say we probably sit down and play UNO as a foursome two or three times a week, but dinner is the single activity that all four of do together daily.)

It's not hard to make enough pasta for everyone!

PS - I'm curious if you have filled out your census form yet, and, if so, how you decided which children to fill in ALL the information about, and which children you had to put on the back page...I thought about your family as I was filling ours out!

Anonymous said...

It is funny that you wrote about this because I was just wondering about your family dinners last week (since you are one of the larger families I "know"). Specifically, I'm wondering how you do it! We are a family of 5. Our kids are 4, 3, and 20-months. We try to sit down for dinner together every night. We are trying to teach our kids that they need to stay at the dinner table past the two minutes it takes to scarf their food down. The 4- and 3-year-olds whine, and the 20-month-old just starts throwing things, and sometimes I just want to throw in the towel. I know it's important though, so we are sticking with it!

Anonymous said...

Great post! (I was actually thinking of you, too, when I filled out our census form!)

His Hands His Feet Today said...

A big hearty AMEN!!!!!
I'm going to link back to you on this one! :)
... another family that eats together every night :)

The Coys said...

This is one thing I have so much guilt over. My husband doesn't get home until 7:30 most nights and since the kids are in bed and it's much too late to eat, we end up with a two-shift meal. Just not possibly with living so far out of a big city and lots of traffic. But we do make it a point on the weekend to sit together. I do agree on the importance but it doesn't always work in practice.

Cuppa Jo said...

We do a family dinner. And do not schedule anything during dinner. Our dinner hour changes from day to day, but we're all here and accounted for. Dinners don't last too long, and on some days, it's just plain 'ole pasta and broccoli, but it's dinner and it happens. Thanks for this!

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