Does your family eat dinner together and, perhaps more to the point, do you think it matters?
A few years ago, a major publication published a piece saying family dinners were essentially “overrated.”
And I recently have read several articles saying basically the same thing, even assuring parents they should not “beat themselves up” if they never sit down and break bread with their children.
I completely and wholeheartedly disagree.
While I understand the “business” of raising children, making time for family dinner is so important. There is something critical about connecting with the family at the end of the day. Sharing a meal together is the perfect way to engage.
Of course, I realize in today’s crazy world, eating dinner together may seem impossible. But as with so many other things (channeling my mother here), we all tend to make time for what is important to us.
I realize the days of “Leave it to Beaver” or Aunt Bee cooking dinner are a thing of the past — or just fiction in general.
And I well remember the days when eating a sandwich in the car was “family dinner” as we hurried to soccer practice, baseball, Scout meetings, church obligations or ballet.
But with some planning, even the busiest of families can dine together at least a few nights a week.
When our four children were young, I used to strategize on Sundays.
First, I looked at our upcoming week and the various extracurricular activities. I almost always did our weekly meal planning on Sundays, so this was the perfect time to see which nights we could actually all sit down together for dinner.
For those nights, I tried to plan on having something I knew everybody would eat. All moms know exactly what I am talking about.
Spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, hamburgers, grilled chicken, roasts, and pretty much anything with pasta were family favorites. If I knew my day was particularly busy, I hauled out my trusty slow cooker and employed its help.
I do remember being exhausted after family dinners. After all, when the kitchen is a mess and four children still need baths and have to finish their homework, it was often easy to wonder if it was, in fact, worth it.
Now that our children are young adults, I can tell you they all say they have wonderful memories of family dinners. Thankfully, none of them seem to remember the nights we argued or had to end dinner early due to misbehavior or fighting.
I suppose it is a bit like childbirth. You tend to remember the good parts.
Now when the six of us are all together, dinner is the pinnacle of our gathering. I still try to make things I know everybody likes, although now their palates have expanded and I can cook pretty much anything.
We linger at the table long after the meal is finished, reliving the past and talking about events of the day.
It saddens me to think the family dinner hour is becoming a thing of the past. Even if you order takeout or bring home fast food, why not turn off the television, set the table and insist everybody eat there?
I remember sometimes, for no reason at all, I would get out “the good plates” and set the dining room table. I remember thinking it was so cute that everybody’s manners seemed a little better in the more formal setting.
If you haven’t had many family dinners, it may seem strange, even awkward, at first. In addition, it may generate protests from the family — especially if they’re used to watching television while eating. Perhaps even your spouse will object.
Stay strong. I promise, the effort is worth it. As you make dining together more of the norm rather than the exception, the children will look forward to this time of reconnection with the most important people in their world.
Oh, and don’t forget to establish the dinner table as a “no-cell-phone-zone.”
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.