A million and one studies have shown that families who eat dinner together–as in sit down, on chairs, at a table, with no t.v. blaring in the background–not only stay together [longer] but are closer, more communicative, more connected. The kids do better in school, the parents are less stressed out…heck, even the dog has learned how to retrieve Mom’s slippers without ventilating the toes. It’s as if eating together means feeding the family from an enchanted pot of magic beans. Got problems? Have dinner and poof! they disappear!
It’s frustrating to see examples like that revered as a simple way to solve and/or prevent common family problems, especially when for many of us, that ”simple” solution isn’t so simple. Obviously there’s some merit to the theory–I’ll buy that families who have dinner together at home talk more, listen more, eat healthier, and, by mutual exclusivity, are less likely to be overscheduled with extracurriculars (or did the chicken come before the egg?)–but I definitely don’t think that means the benefits of family dinnertime are accessible only to those who obey the letter of the law–dinner together, every night, at the table.
Between full-time jobs, part-time jobs, second (and third) jobs, and ballet/soccer/space camp, many families find it hard to get everyone in the same place at the same time, let alone at home in front of a home-cooked meal every night. Not every family can eat dinner together, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy goal, albeit with room for modification. Can do dinner? Make it breakfast, make it lunch, make it a regularly scheduled Skype date. In my house, no matter what goes on during our days and nights, we make a special point to follow my son’s bedtime routine as a family. We brush his teeth together, then we wave night-night to ourselves in the bathroom mirror, then we squeeze onto the miniature couch in the nursery and I hold the baby while Daddy reads a story (because he has all the best voices). Up until that point, two of the three of us might only have seen each other in passing–a quick kiss before work, a weary high-five as the baby is passed like a baton from one parent to the other–but when it’s time for toothbrushing and storytime, it’s all hands on deck, all eyes forward, one for all and all for one. Granted, we only have one kid, and he’s only one year old, but I like to think we’re setting a good example (for him, for ourselves) by making the effort this early, and by acknowledging its importance in staying grounded and connected.
There’s a lot of negative fallout when our busy lives come between us and our families, but is sitting around the dinner (or breakfast, or lunch) table your “simple” solution to staying in touch? Do you have other regular rituals that everyone in your family can count on as uninterrupted quality time? Do you try to do something all together once a day, once a week, once a month? Is togetherness the rule or the exception in your household?
(And what comes after family dinnertime, you ask? Why, adults-only cocktails, of course! If you’ve ever wondered how to make the perfect martini, head on over to this week’s Problem Solved, where my better half decodes the classic and then gives it a twist.)