I was talking with my parents and they made a comment that got me thinking. They said, “It used to be that adults went to work, then went home or to a dinner with friends to talk about their day. They would tell jokes and share their frustrations and problems. This was their daily group therapy.”
It made me wonder if the average child – and adult for that matter – is missing a vital connection each day.
By eating in the minivan, or with the TV or phone front and center, there is not much space for laughter, lamenting, or meaningful conversation. Maybe we’d need less counseling if we had more chicken dinners together. I’m certainly not saying counseling doesn’t have a place. I’m simply wondering if we would need counselors less if we had more family members to lean on.
Maybe it’s time for you to rise up and save dinner in your home.
It’s been proven time and again that eating together as a family on a regular basis creates a healthy child. Consider that kids and teenagers who share family dinners three or more times per week:
-Are less likely to be overweight
-Are more likely to eat healthy foods
-Perform better academically
-Are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, and sexual activity
-Have better relationships with their parents
The more meals together, the better! With each additional dinner, researchers found fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, and higher life satisfaction.
So, if the benefits are so spectacular, why don’t more parents flock to the table with their children? Families cite the lack of time and picky eaters as the main culprits preventing sharing a meal at home more often. It’s difficult to eat together when one kid is in soccer, another is in ballet, and a parent is working late in the office.
My Growing Up Social co-author Dr. Gary Chapman remembers, “We had to bounce back and forth from eating early to eating late depending on our schedules. But we knew eating dinner together was part of who we were. It can be done. There might be a night where you eat pizza on the way to the game, but that’s not the everyday thing. It’s the exception. The families who work to make mealtime happen are doing themselves a great service.”
Don’t stop having regular family dinners when your children become teens. That’s certainly a temptation as your high schoolers’ schedule gets packed and they want to understandably spend more time with friends. Studies show teens who have more positive communication with their parents over mealtimes are emotionally healthier and less likely to smoke, drink, and get into trouble in school. Mealtime rituals are still important when you have teens, providing a very important sense of belonging.
If your family is accustomed to eating on the go or separately, start with one weekly family meal and keep adding. Create a home that’s both nutritionally rich and relationally rich. Make a plan to save dinner and revive family meals if other activities have gotten in the way. In so doing, you’ll save your children from looking outside of your home for a place to belong and for people who will listen.
Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of several books including Parents Rising: 8 Strategies for Raising Kids Who Love God, Respect Authority, and Value What’s Right. and Calm, Cool, and Connected: 5 Digital Habits for a More Balanced Life. Learn more at ArlenePellicane.com.