Do you remember watching television sitcoms such as “The Brady Bunch”, “The Partridge Family” or even “The Wonder Years”? In those television shows families would gather together around the dinner table every night and talk about the adventures of their day. This dinner ritual is about more than providing your body with required sustenance. It gives families a time to reconnect with the people closest to them and opens the doors of communication.
Studies have also shown that teens in families that eat dinner together are less likely to use drugs, alcohol and cigarettes than teens that don’t eat dinner with their parents. With today’s hectic schedules, it can be nearly impossible to fit family dinners among practices, lessons, and work hours. A woman’s role in society has changed. Millions of women have entered the workforce due to the necessity of having two incomes to support a family in these times. Women are no longer just homemakers and many don’t have the time to prepare elaborate meals every night.
According to the article “The Erosion of Family Dinners and Family Time” research by the University of Minnesota has shown that “In the past twenty years, there has been a thirty three percent decline in the number of families who eat dinner together regularly”. “Only fifty percent of American families eat dinner together every night” and “thirty four percent of these meals come from fast food restaurants”. Family dinners have been endangered for some time and will soon become extinct unless we can make an effort to preserve this tradition.
Communication is opened up between family members around the dinner table. Parents can talk to their children about important topics, such as, school performance, problems within the home and about their child’s daily activities. Children have an opportunity to share problems such as peer pressure, trouble in school or ask questions they may have on their minds. This opening of communication will allow children to feel comfortable expressing themselves and allow them to develop the skills needed for future social interactions.
With us spending less time together as a family and more time in work, school, or other activities dinner can be the best time to catch up with everyone’s lives. It also offers a time to reconnect. Families can sit around the table and have face-to-face time with their loved ones. These days we mostly see family members in passing, on the way out to work, school and other activities. At dinner we have the chance get to know each other again and bond. Another important benefit of having family dinners is preventing your children from using drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.
In an article entitled “Start a Revolution-Eat Dinner With Your Family” we are given the results of a study done in 2003 by the National Center on Addiction and substance abuse at Columbia University. It found that teens from families that eat dinner together are less likely to use illegal drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Teens who rarely eat dinner with their families are more likely to use these substances. This study compared teens that have family dinner twice a week or less with teens who have dinner with their families five nights or more per week.
The researchers found that the teens who ate five or more family meals a week were 32 percent likelier never to have tried cigarettes, 45 percent likelier never to have tried alcohol and 24 percent likelier never to have smoked marijuana. With families busier than ever, dinners offer a predictable routine and an opportunity for parents to monitor their children’s behavior. In the story “The Best Christmas present Ever” written by Warren Kliewer, we are transported to Uncle Pete’s farmhouse on Christmas day.
Kliewer’s immediate and extended family is gathered there for a Christmas feast. “The festivities began just after noon with the feast – an enormous array of beans and corn and mashed potatoes and bread and rolls and relishes and pumpkin pie surrounding this shank of a pig that two or three months earlier had walked around its pen some fifty yards from the kitchen” (237-238). In this story Kliewer makes us feel the warmth and comfort of his family. We get the feeling that they are supportive and encouraging.
His family is so large they have to eat in two shifts. Because the gathered clan was much too large for Uncle Pete and Aunt Anna’s modest dining room table, the grown-ups ate at the first seating. We children waited. When the grown-ups were finished, the table was reset for us, and we were joined by Aunt Anna, who had been the presiding cook and now became the children’s chaperone” (238). The story ends with Kliewer receiving two books from his Uncle Pete. One of the books is “Robin Hood”; Kliewer feels this is the best present ever. It was the gift of imagination, which he enjoyed for many years after by rereading the story or acting out the scenes with his friends.
In contrast, we can look to a story written by David Leavitt, “Danny In Transit”. In this story Danny and his family did not gather around the dinner table together. They ate separately. “Every night Elaine (Danny’s mother) ate two dinners – Spaghetti-O’s or Tater Tots with Danny, at six, and later, after Danny had gone to bed, something elaborate and romantic, by candlelight, with Allen” (128). Later in this story, Danny’s parents decide to divorce. Danny’s father came out of the closet and moved in with another man. Danny’s mother fell apart and had a mental breakdown.
Poor Danny was caught in the middle of this turmoil and was left to deal with his feelings and emotions alone. If Danny’s family had ate dinner before as a family would the lines of communication been more open thus enabling Danny to talk about his feelings and understand the situation between his parents? In my own experience I found that having a set dinnertime with family to be instrumental to communication and a feeling of stability. When I was a little girl, my grandmother and I would eat dinner together every night at six o’clock. We would talk about all sorts of things.
She would tell me about something interesting she watched on television, a nice shirt she saw while shopping or any concerns that she had about me. I would tell her about my teachers at school, my friends, or problems I was having. Dinner was a time of communication. I knew if I had something important to say it could always be shared at six o’clock. It also gave me a sense of stability. Dinner with my grandmother was something I could depend on. No matter what chaos was happening in the world around me I knew that dinner was going to be on the table and my grandmother would be waiting.
When my grandmother passed away she took our dinner tradition with her. My uncle became my guardian and our family dinner was forgotten. I became dependent on microwave meals and fast food that I would eat in the company of my favorite television characters. I remember having a feeling of isolation. No longer did I have a person to listen to my daily activities or problems. My uncle would often work late and had very little time for me. I often felt alone and disconnected from my home life. I missed the dinners I used to have with my grandmother.
In conclusion, the ritual of eating dinner together as a family is extremely beneficial to all members of a family. In an ever-changing society we need to set aside at least an hour a day to sit together at a table and share a meal. During this hour, we can open the doors of communication, reconnect with loved ones and help prevent our children from developing unhealthy substance abuse problems. So let’s keep this tradition alive. Go home tonight, gather your family, set the table and let the feast begin.
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