One of the most important traditions in daily family life is dinner time. With the increase in fast food, multiple venues of home entertainment, and increase in differing family schedules, sitting down at the dinner table with the whole family is becoming a thing of the past.
Eating together as a whole family allows for a unique bonding time, where every person can enjoy spending time with one another. It allows for good habits to be formed, and sets a model for children when they have their own families.
Today, we see too many parents bringing work home, too many teenagers bustling with after school activities, and too many kids glued to computers and video games. It has become very difficult to coordinate a dinner that meets every family member's schedule.
Personally, I grew up with my parents instilling this tradition in myself and my brothers, so naturally I want this to be a part of my life with my wife and daughter. It is a comfort, and time to look forward to, where we all can relax and enjoy each other's company.
Recently, I have become increasingly bothered by trends I see in daily family life. In the area I work, I see many different young people, who are supposed to be our future. Because I work in a maternity area, I am able to see into their lives and upbringing. It saddens me at the inability of these parents to communicate with respect and manners. It saddens me at the lack of family structure I see on a day to day basis. And it saddens me that I see too many young people, who by a lack of responsibility, accountability, and maturity are not ready to be parents.
Why do I bring this up? Because I believe that family values and traditions in America are becoming phased out. A simple event such as eating meals together as a family is a huge step in the right direction.
I realize there are many families that do establish a set dinner together, and for those families, you have my utmost respect. My encouragement pours out to you and yours, and hope that you continue to keep this timeless tradition a part of daily life.
So, how can we structure family dinners and what does that entail? For the past two weeks, I have read countless articles on this matter, and have been formulating my thoughts in my notebook I keep for this blog. I knew I was going to be writing about this, and I wanted to make sure I was able to cover all the aspects I consider to be important.
How do I start family meals?
The first step is probably the most difficult, and that is setting the goal for having family meal time. I focus on dinner because traditionally that is the time when most everyone in the family can be together, but it does not have to be exclusively for supper. Lunches and breakfasts can be just as enjoyable.
Once an established goal is set, finding time would be next. I realize with so much going on in our kids' lives these days, as well as the stress and complications of work, that finding a set time for everyone to sit down for a meal can be next to impossible. That is why it is important to make sure every member of the family is aware this is something they must make time for.
Resistance is to be expected, especially if it is not already commonly practiced. But studies have shown that children actually enjoy this time, and can be a daily routine to look forward to.
Once everything is in place for family dinner time, it is now time to put it all into practice.
- Turn off the TV
- Turn off the radio
- Let the phone go unanswered
- Turn off or remove any other distractions that could disrupt the family meal.
By removing all these, the focus at the table can be directed at all family members, as opposed to away from the table.
Family dinners should be fun! Leave all negativity, scolding, and arguing to a minimum. This will be a time for sharing, and involving your kids in telling about their days, or asking about how they feel or think on certain topics.
We, as parents, are there for support, and family dinners can be an excellent time to take advantage of the time given and make sure your kids know you are there for them. Listen and interact to their feelings and thoughts, and include them in decisions and discussions. I am hoping when my daughter is old enough to appreciate family time, that we create bonds of trust and sharing, so that she will feel like she can talk to my wife and I about anything she wishes.
Another way of creating fun at the dinner table can be to play games, such as 'I Spy'. Or you can create thought provoking challenges, such as thinking about what the family uses each day that was and was not available 100 years ago. For instance, 100 years ago, I wouldn't have this computer right here to blog out my thoughts on a daily basis. But, I would have had pen and paper to write my thoughts down if that was an avenue I wanted to pursue.
Keep the dinners fun, enlightening, and enjoyable, so it is a nightly routine everyone will be looking forward to.
Teaching and Learning
Who would have thought that family dinner time would be the perfect opportunity to teach your kids lessons about etiquette and manners! Hah, forgive my lame attempt at sarcasm, but it is true. When the family is gathered 'round the table, it is the perfect opportunity to put into practice mannerisms that will benefit your kids their entire lives.
Here is a small list I have brainstormed:
- Pass food and condiments, instead of grabbing from across the table
- Ask, "Can you please pass the ......"
- Put napkins in your lap
- Pull out chairs for the women, an act of respect
- Eat what is on your plate
- Do no leave the table until everyone is finished
- Chew with mouth closed, do not talk when mouth is full
- Use silverware appropriately, unless it is finger foods
- If needing to leave table, ask, "May I please be excused."
- Help set table, clean table when dinner is done
The list pretty much explains itself, but I wanted to cover 'eat what is on your plate' a tiny bit more. This may or may not be consistent with all families, but I know that in our family, practice has always been to eat what is cooked for you, and be appreciative there is food on the table. I believe it is important to not make dinner time an event of 'ordering' what you want. It is just not beneficial to cook three different meals for four people because each person wants something different.
Try establishing that what is cooked is what will be eaten. But by all means though, avoid the liver and brussel sprouts! I try not to make anything I know my family hates. So, on those occasions I cannot make a 'favorite' meal, I drift towards cooking foods that may not be at the top of everyone's list, but still provides a healthy variety of choices over time.
A study done by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has shown some very beneficial statistics to having a family dinner. This compares teenagers who eat dinner with their families five or more times a week versus those who eat dinner with their families two times a week or less.
Teens with 2 or less dinners with their family are:
- 3.5x likelier to have abused prescription drugs
- 3.5x likelier to have abused an illegal drug other than marijuana or prescription drugs
- 3x likelier to have used marijuana
- 2.5x likelier to use have used tobacco
- 1.5x likelier to have consumed alcohol
The CASA report can be found here.
Curbing the trend
Join me and help establish dinner time with your own families. The pleasure I get from sitting down with my wife and daughter is tremendous, and I cannot imagine not having that as one of our family traditions.
Let us all take a note from our parents, and our parents' parents, and instill this quality time with our loved ones. It does not have to be full-out Leave it to Beaver style, so mold your own family nights, and carry on with a legacy that can continue to be passed on from generation to generation.
Not Me! Monday is here again. Head over to McKMama's blog to see what others have not been doing. I did not write part of this blog at work yesterday because I was afraid I wouldn't finish the post in time. I did not hand the baby monitor to my wife last night because I was drop dead tired from two straight 12 hour shifts at the hospital. And I most definitely did not eat a huge chunk of pie last week, thus completely disrupting my harmonious diet.