Family Dinners: In Praise of Good Parenting

davey_goliath_dinner.jpgLately, Kim and I have felt that we’ve spent a lot of time ranting on bad parenting. A lot of that is attributed to our mission. Although it largely involves helping grown-ups tap into their childlike spirit to create lives that are less stressful and more fun, we also want to help children have good childhoods to look back on. However, anything we will ever be able to accomplish in this arena absolutely pales in comparison to the impact individual parents have in the lives of their own children.

It’s easy to point out the negative (it’s been the bread and butter of the news media for a long time), but I am more than happy to point out a case for hope.

A recent ABC news story highlights a growing trend in this country, namely that parents are more active in the lives of their children, reading more to them and restricting TV more than 10 years earlier.

Every evening, Dan and Cheryl Weese and their three kids sit around the dinner table together and talk about their day. Television is no distraction: The family’s TV has been in the basement for six years.

“We don’t miss it,” says Weese, a Chicago architect. He and his wife, who also works, made a decision when their first son was born to “challenge ourselves to be more involved” with their kids. Ditching TV, eating breakfast and dinner together, and regularly reading to their 7-year-old son and 4-year-old twins are all part of that decision.

…With meals, he says, it didn’t come naturally to make everyone sit down together. “It was essentially a leap of faith. But now it’s become really enjoyable for everyone.”

Can I get an Amen and an Alleluia!

The article also reports that according to the 2004 U.S. Census, “Some 78 percent of children under 6 ate dinner every night with their parents, and 53 percent ate breakfast with their parents every day.” If all parents knew how important eating dinner together as a family was to their children — something that used to be an unquestioned element of family life in this country — I think we’d see a lot more people doing it. More than a decade’s worth of research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has consistently found that the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs. Kids who frequently eat dinner with their families are also likelier to have better grades and confide in their parents.

The trends are encouraging. There are a lot of parents stepping up, trying to make sure that their kids will have good childhoods to look back on tomorrow, which in turn will only make the world a better place.

I am also very excited to share with you the concept of Family Day:

Family Day — A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children™ is a national movement to remind parents that what their kids really want at the dinner table is THEM! Family Day encourages parents to frequently eat dinner with their kids and be involved in their children’s lives. The conversations that go hand-in-hand with dinner help parents learn more about their kids’ lives and helps them to better understand the challenges their kids face.

The next official Family Day (the first one was in 2001) is set for September 22, 2008. Obviously, for many families, it will be a simple acknowledgment of something that is already a treasured routine.

I wish you could hear my applause. Keep up the good work.

For those of you who struggle finding time to corral the troops for mealtime on a regular basis, I encourage you to try harder. Not only is it a pretty good way to escape the hustle and bustle of the outside world for a few moments each day, the benefits it provides your children are priceless.

How about you? Do you have regular family dinners?  Feel free to share your thoughts and favorite stories in the comments section.

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Comments

  1. Amen. Alleluia.
    Growing up, eating together as a family was a must. Oh, sometimes we kids fought it. Some days we didn’t open up, enlightening our parents to all the ins and outs of our days.
    But it defined me.
    I’ve told my husband that when it’s time for us to have kids, dinner together is a requirement.
    And I’ve already set aside books I can’t wait to read my kids.

  2. Good for you, Heather! We put up a fight with my mom, too. Thanks, Mom and Dad

  3. What a great post.

    When I read to my kids and enjoy them all cuddled up in my lap, I always try to stop and be thankful for it. I know that the days of doing that are numbered. But I can’t see us stopping dinners together at all. It’s a major part of our routine.

    Ditching the TV isn’t the only response. I think as long as we aren’t parking the kids in front of it while we’re off doing other things, it’s OK. I also enjoy a good “movie night” when we pop some popcorn, turn out the lights, and snuggle under a blanket on the couch for a little movie time.

  4. Thanks, Bob. Speaking of the days of reading to your kids being “numbered”, I just read a quote today along those lines:

    “Children are like snowflakes: unique, and they are only around for a short time.”

    Enjoy every minute.

  5. Minette says:

    AMEN, ALLEUIA!!!

    I am not married and have no kids. Dinner together, however, would be a requirement if I did. Even if you’re “just” married, isn’t simply sitting down together to dinner and talking about what’s up an important part of the relationship? Think about how much more important that is with your kids!

    I think one of the major problems is that kids are so over-scheduled the parents literally can’t figure out how to sandwich dinner between soccer practice, dance, karate, and the other myriad things parents take their kids to. Ever thought about taking some of that out and just letting the kid be a kid???

    (OK, end of rant.) I remember growing up breakfast at 8 (7:00 or 7:30 on school days), lunch at noon and supper at 6. No ifs, ands, or buts and you had better have your butt parked in your seat. If the phone rang, it rang. It did not get answered during supper or any other meal. Dad was a lawyer but he said anything that needs to be said at 6 can be said at 7. We’d have discussions (how did broccoli get its name?) that engaged the kids and the parents together. THANKS MOM AND DAD!

  6. I also think a key thing about eating as a family is the nutritional aspect of the meal. When a kid is forced to sit down and eat a meal, they won’t feel like grazing and eating a lot of junk…

  7. Minette — It’s funny what sorts of discussions come up around the dinner table. We tried to figure out how in the world my mom could like liver!

    SavingDiva — Good point. Not to mention that almost any type of sit down meal has a good chance fof being healthier than something from a fast food joint.

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