The Family That Eats Together...

Monday November 22, 2010

The family that eats together…

…talks together?

…fights together?

…laughs together?

All the above and more.

My oldest loves to tell his favorite family dinner story. It may be one of those "You had to be there" stories, but I'll give it a shot. Jonathan says he was in high school, which means he was well-acquainted with the expected family etiquette. Dinner was always a fun, lively time, but Mom had no tolerance for belching and other bodily function noises at the dinner.

During a lull in the dinnertime conversation, a big, huge honkin' belch emitted from the smallest member of the family...Benjamin, who was probably six at the time. It reduced his three big brothers to belly laughs and guffaws, and I wondered if we'd ever be able to resume our meal.

What did I do? I'm sure I said in a warning tone, "Guys..." (I spent a lot of time saying "Guys," always with that dot, dot, dot, and in that tone.) But the moment had taken over and my efforts were to no avail.

I've got gratitude on the mind, and believe it or not, it's this kind of memory I'm grateful for. I'm glad the boys remember dinner as a fun time. I'm glad we made the effort (and it was often a herculean effort) to have dinner together, as a family.

Family meals aren’t always perfect – I’m sure we all have stories! But regularly eating together serves as an anchor for a family. Granted, we may not always eat right, kids may bicker, and parents may be preoccupied with the events of the day. But when it works, the family takes off on an idea, an argument is taken apart, and thoughts are shared in a safe place.

And it isn’t all about the food. Robin Fox, an anthropologist at Rutgers, says, “If it were just about food, we would squirt it into their mouths with a tube. A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.”

What are the benefits of the shared family meal?
  • It provides stability. Home needs to be a place they feel loved and secure. Order helps to provide the stability. Knowing the family will gather together each night provides a much-needed anchor.
  • It improves communication. Most of us talk while we eat. Often kids share things casually over a meal. Family mealtime can be a time to unwind, to decompress from the day’s events.
  • It relieves stress. There’s something about sitting around a table together, sharing a meal. Taking time to eat together forces you to slow down. Laughter happens – and all of this alleviates stress.
  • It builds tradition. It’s a small ritual, but a ritual the same. Something expected, relied upon. It’s a family gathering, a time to come together – all in the same room, minus electronic devices. (By the way, if your family meals aren’t a phone-free, TV-free, ipod-free zone, make it happen. Those times will be much more conducive to family bonding without all those devices.)

You haven’t exactly bought into this tradition in your family? Take heart! Studies show that family dinner gets better with practice. Researchers say the less often a family eats together, the worse the experience will be. So, start practicing – on a regular basis.

Maybe you can begin by enjoying this Thanksgiving Dinner together, and use that as a starting point.

Start – or strengthen – your family meal times. You’re making a big investment in your family’s future.

Do you have some ideas for making family mealtimes work -- or a great family mealtime story? Share with us!


Victoria said...

This is something that was always important to my mom. Even when my dad worked late she made sure my brother and I (or whoever happened to be at home that night) ate with her as a family. It wasn't perfect but it kept us all close.
Even now she'll check periodically to make sure we're all eating together.
I love your story. I hope you all get many more this year at Thanksgiving.

Corinne Cunningham said...

I thought of you last night as we all sat down to dinner after I threw a temper tantrum because no one was coming to dinner when I told them it was time :) We were all sick, and each had something different to eat, and football was on the tv, but I still was set on all of us at least sitting in the same place. It makes such a big difference, even if a mama has to throw a temper tantrum to get it ;) We always connect, even over sniffly noses and touchdowns!

Laura@OutnumberedMom said...

You're oh-so-right, Corrine! Even when it's less than perfect, the connecting time is worth it.

Kudos to Mom and her tantrum. Sometimes you've just gotta pull the Mom card!

Faith said...

Love this post! RIGHT ON! I always say the family that plays together stays together (and the one that PRAYS together stays together....) but yup..the family that eats together, too! In our house it has always been a "rule" from age 1 right on up that we will eat as many evening meals (dinner) together as we can. We don't eat until 6-6:30 due to my hubby's commute but on the nights 2 of us have to eat early (5:30) i always make sure we are eating together and then connecting with daddy later in the evening once everyone is home. We have had LOTS of funny or not so funny things happen around the table....way too many to share here but....i do know that we are making memories as well as teaching our daughters the finer points of conversation, etiquette and hospitality. We actually eat together around the table 5 nites out of 7. I think that's pretty good.....and I treasure these evenings because I know one chair is gonna be empty next fall!

Diane said...

I just started really trying to work on family dinners again. We are up to once a week and I am thankful for small beginnings. :O)

Laura@OutnumberedMom said...

Every little bit helps, Diane. And you have to start somewhere. One dinner together this week is more connection than you had before.


Alexandra said...

THis is so true. I read a study that one of the biggest reasons for this, was the eye contact made.

Not only do you connect, but you can see if your child is doing'll show in his eyes...


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