Sunday, September 14, 2014

Yes, The Family Meal Matters

A debate surrounding the family meal has been raging in cyberspace over the past few weeks.  Feminist Amanda Marcotte wrote an essay suggesting the family dinner was tyrannical because it takes a lot of work and women are rarely thanked for their efforts.  This unleashed a torrent of criticism in the blogosphere and on Twitter.  This week, The Globe and Mail published an article questioning whether family meals are worth the effort, citing numerous examples of tired parents and picky kids while claiming to "debunk the myth" that family dinners matter.  Family meals matter.  Not only do they matter, they are a blessing.  I'm not suggesting that the entire family needs to sit down to a homemade dinner seven nights a week (but if you can, wow, that's pretty amazing).  In our house, my husband's job means he is never home for dinner during the week.  Ever.  So I definitely sympathize with people who find this task daunting.  What matters is that families are setting aside regular times every week to break bread together - whether it is for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  This looks different in every house.

Why does the family meal matter?

Priorities - Making time to eat together as a family shows your kids that spending time with them is a priority in your life.  This reinforces that they are important to you.

Quality Time - Ah, the old QT.  This does matter.  Sitting around a table with your spouse and kids gives you a chance to talk and interact in ways that you do not do while driving in car to hockey games, school, dance lessons, etc.

Behaviour - This is a big one.  Many social norms, manners and decorum are learned while sitting around the family table.  Manners do still matter.  Being able to carry on a conversation, read cues, and behave appropriately is a very important skill that your child will need if he or she is going to be successful in life.  The best place they can learn this is at the dining room table and the best teachers are Mom and Dad.

Nutrition - You do not need to be serving gourmet meals every night. The fact of the matter remains that the vast majority of homecooked meals are healthier than eating out.  Enough said.

Responsibility - So many people are complaining about the family meal because it takes so much work.  It's called chores.  Make your kids help.  From a very young age kids are able to set the table, clear away dishes, wash dishes (load the dishwasher), sweep the floor, and put things away.  All these things teach responsibility and help ease the "burden" of the family dinner.  As kids get older, this is an amazing way to get them involved in cooking and the meal planning process.  A child does not need to be very old before they are able to prepare a spaghetti dinner once a week for the family, and it will not be long after that when more sophisticated dishes interest them.  Having a teenager prepare a family meal once a week is a fantastic way to help them learn how to cook - and this is a skill that will benefit them immensely once they leave the house. 

Gratitude - All these complaints about no gratitude.  First of all, if you are looking to your kids to fulfill some internal need for gratification you have problems.  They are kids.  However - it is a parent's responsibility to teach their children gratitude.  My late father-in-law taught my husband this - when we got married he thanked me for making dinner every night as he cleared the dishes.

Hospitality -  Remember when you were a kid and your parents had guests over for dinner?  This is like the Family Dinner Plus.  This is where your kids will learn so much about being gracious hosts and hostesses, how to entertain, how to behave appropriately in various social settings.  

Life Lessons - Sitting around the family table and hearing stories from various family members reminds everyone that there is world outside their own.  Every day we are all experiencing different things, and we can learn from and help each other.  Knowing when to speak, and knowing when to listen is an invaluable lesson which many people have learned sitting around the family dinner table.

Memories - And here it is.  The immeasurable benefit of the family dinner.  Whether you are a single mother with kids, grandparents raising a grandchild, or a mom and dad raising a handful of kids - countless memories are created around the family dinner table.  My parents are divorced.  I remember when we had family dinners.  And then I remember never having them.  I loved going to visit friends and sharing dinners with their families.  It was beautiful.  It is not just about setting the table and serving some food - it is about watching your parents interact, it is about the giggles from your children when something funny happens, it is about mom making that special dinner for you when you have had a bad day, it is the smell of roast beef drifting through the house on a Sunday afternoon, it is the pumpkin pie that your grandma always made just for you, it is the time you spend with your family.  You cannot buy this.  Millions of people would give up so much to be able to sit down and eat a dinner with their family.  Do not take the family dinner for granted.  Cherish it.

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