A few days ago, I was interviewed by Miriam Weinstein. Miriam is the author of The Surprising Power of Family Meals, and was interviewing me for her blog, PowerOfFamilyMeals.com. Her big question was, essentially:
Why do you make family meals? Why are they important to you, and what benefits do you see from them?
I talk a lot about family meals on this blog. All these posts get their start at my dinner table. But I don't feel like I gave her a good answer. "Why?" has been nagging me since the interview.
Please bear with me. I'm trying to figure it out by writing this post.
What scares me is my kids are wannabe teenagers. They're not there yet, but it's getting close enough that we can see it from here. Can I keep this up when they're actual teenagers, and really push back? They already see dinner as an interruption. They'd rather wolf something down and play with their friends.
Or play Minecraft. Holy cow, are they addicted to Minecraft.
So, why do I do it?
- Get better grades
- Are less likely to use cigarettes
- Are less likely to abuse drugs
- Are less likely to be depressed
- Are less likely to be overweight
Source: CASA annual survey on family dinners.
Why do family meals help kids, especially teenagers, so much? Parents and kids who have regular family dinners are more engaged with each other. The parents know what's happening in the kid's lives, and the kids have someplace to talk about things they might be embarrassed to share with their friends. Family dinner keeps the kids talking to you.
The researchers say communication during the meal is more important than the meal itself. Kids need a safe place to talk to parents who listen. If you can't make time for family dinners, make time to talk with the kids. A lot. Please?
No, really, why do you do it?
Beyond the statistics, there are a bundle of emotional reasons I believe in family meals.
I live to eat, and love to cook. (This should be clear to anyone who reads this blog.) I want my kids to know what good food is. I want them to know it doesn't have to be fancy, or come from a restaurant. Cooking is important to me, and it is a life skill I want to pass on to them.
I want my kids to see that good food takes work. It doesn't have to be a huge amount of work, but it is not effortless. I believe "convenience" foods are causing the weight problems in this country. I hope I'm showing my kids a better way forward by getting them involved. Right now they set the table, and load and unload the dishwasher. Pretty soon they'll join us in cooking and planning.
Which means I'll have to loosen my grip on dinner. I am a control freak, after all. But I'll do it, because it will help them in the future.
A family meal weaves together all the threads of being a family. We take care of each other, meeting an essential need. (Everyone's got to eat, right?) We work towards a common goal. (I'll cook, you toss the salad, he can set the table.) We share a simple pleasure. (Did I mention I love to eat?) We connect with each other over the table. (What's better than a fun talk after a meal?). We settle conflicts. (Yes, it IS your turn to do the dishes.)
Sure, you can do all that away from the table. And I hope you do - none of them stop being important when the dishes are cleared. But I believe, down to the core of my soul, that dinner is the best time to come together as a family.
What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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