Do you remember family dinners from your childhood? They were often formal affairs, even if it was only meatloaf on the menu. We had to ask to have things passed. We had to ask to be excused. Today we have to yell and cajole to even get people to the table in the first place. As a culture, we’ve made dinner a far more casual affair than it once was.
Families used to eat dinner together; and not just once or twice a week, but all the time. Today we eat McDonald’s drive through on our way to errands, if we’re lucky. One recent study from the University of Minnesota found that most families eat together only three times a week, and those meals take far less time than they did even twenty years ago. We sit down, we inhale, we get up.
Eating Dinner as a Family Is Good for Everyone
That’s too bad, because studies also show that eating together has incredible benefits. Teens who eat dinner with their families at least five times a week are less likely to do drugs or be depressed, and are more likely to do well in school. And kids who never eat with their parents are 60% more likely to smoke or drink. It only makes sense; dinner is one of those few opportunities to all be together and actually talk. At other times, we’re running in different directions. Dinner is a time to catch up, to talk about what we’re worried about and what we’re happy about, and just to connect. And the more we connect, the more likely we are to have good relationships with our kids. Besides that, if we have dinner together, we’re more likely to spend time together after dinner. We may pull out the Monopoly game, do a puzzle, or read a book.
Unfortunately, with shift work becoming more and more common, making time to eat together is difficult. On the nights when my husband is working I find it hard to get excited about cooking a meal. After all, chances are my kids won’t like it anyway, and why cook just for me? Dinner, instead of becoming a family tradition where we all meet at the table, becomes haphazard, depending on who is where on any given night.
Make Dinner Into an Occasion
Traditions seem old-fashioned, but this is one we should fight to preserve. We need that time altogether. If your spouse isn’t there, you can still try to make the effort to sit down with your kids, even if it’s just around a bowl of Corn Flakes and some scrambled eggs. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to make dinners more important family occasions. We’ve now started to bring out the good dishes even for regular meals. My kids love drinking their orange juice out of wine glasses, and it seems to inspire them to concentrate more on manners. We’ve even begun to light candles which, aside from delighting my children, has the fortunate side effect that they render the “yucky green stuff” Mommy puts on food-in other words, the parsley-a little more invisible.
Prioritize Dinner Time and Family Will Follow
We always say that we want to prioritize family, but unless we make the effort to eat together, our dreams will never be realized. Our kids will spend their lives on video games, or playing with friends, and we won’t naturally connect. So take some time Sunday nights, before the week begins, to figure out what you’re going to make this week. Plan your meals so that you know what you need at the grocery store and won’t be running out all frazzled some night at 5:30 because you don’t have spaghetti after all. Put a little forethought into dinner, and your stress level will go down as you spend more time with your family. Dinner is the perfect time to build a family. Prioritize it, and your family will thrive!
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Sheila Wray Gregoire is the author of four books, including To Love, Honor and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother. She blogs at http://tolovehonorandvacuum.blogspot.com