In the the last hundred years or so, we’ve seen technology bring about more advancements than the rest of human history combined. We’ve come a long way, baby.
For the most part, these advancements have served us well. We’re able to produce more food, travel longer distances in less time, eradicate once-deadly diseases, and improve the length and quality of our lives.
Some negative consequences, such as increased pollution and more dangerous weapons, have been ushered in as well. But I think the most dangerous side effect is that we find the promise of what the future holds so compelling, we’re willing to throw the wisdom of the ages right out the window. We are so eager to reach for the new and improved that we discard the traditions of the past as old-fashioned and out of touch.
And boy, are we paying the price.
One such tradition that seems to be going the way of the dodo bird is the family dinner. With so many things going on these days, who has time to gather together all at once? Why, it would be a scheduling miracle of epic proportions! Long work days. Day care pickups. Soccer practice. Dance recitals. Evening meetings. With such full plates, family dinner is the first to go. The rise of fast food joints and microwave ovens make it seem an easy sacrifice.
Unfortunately, the very thing you’re sacrificing is the health, intimacy, and future of your family.
As Miriam Weinstein wrote in her book, The Surprising Power of Family Meals, “We’ve perfected the segmentation of the family. Nobody has to eat the same food, watch the same show, listen to the same song, let alone sing it. We love to imagine the French with their lush tables, or the Italians with their big families, but we prefer to gobble our take-out, our home delivery, our single-serve microwave, on the run, in front of the TV, in the food court, or in the car, while we dream of quality time, of family vacations, of someplace far away.”
If you care about your family at all, you may want to reconsider the importance of family dinners in your life. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University did a study that divided teenagers into two groups. The first group had dinner with their family five times a week or more. The second group had dinner together with their family two times a week or less. The results were astounding.
They discovered that the kids who ate dinner more often with their families were up to 45% less likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, be suspended from school, or have sex at young ages. They are twice as likely to receive A’s in school. Kids who frequently eat dinner with their families are likelier to confide in their parents and are at a lower risk for thoughts of suicide. Other studies from a wide variety of divergent fields have found equally surprising results. Regular family dinners discourage obesity and eating disorders and make kindergartners better equipped to read (even more so than getting read to!)
Isn’t it amazing to think how much depends on dinner?
Please note, we’re not talking gourmet dinners here. The study didn’t mention anything about preparing meals that would make Bobby Flay jealous. And the conversation? That doesn’t have to be all that engaging, either.
Heck, in my house growing up, a typical dinner conversation often included my Dad farting and blaming it on a duck under the table. Which resulted in giggles from me and my two brothers and an icy glare from my Mom (which usually was concealing a nearly undetectable smirk.)
Oh, and my Dad also had a penchant for asking the same, stupid, boring question every single night: “How was school today?”
Naturally, we’d respond with the same stupid answer: “Fine.”
But the thing is, if by some freak occurrence, something actually did happen at school that I wanted to talk about, I knew my Dad (and Mom) would be there to ask the question. That shared time together, that calm amidst the storm that we call life, is so vitally important. In a world that often seems like it has gone crazy, the best thing you can do for the health and sanity of your family is to step off the hamster wheel once a day and share a simple meal together. The conversations that do occur help parents to learn more about their children’s lives and help them to better understand the day-to-day challenges their kids face.
Maybe a regular family dinnertime really is tough to swing. Well, who says you can’t make breakfast your regular meal time? 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. If you struggle finding time to corral the troops for mealtime on a regular basis, I encourage you — no, I beg 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. And if family dinners are already part of your regular routine, why not give it even more attention, intention, and fun?
Life is fast, and technology is making it even faster. Don’t get so sucked into the promise of the future that you abandon a time-tested ritual that our ancestors knew to be vital. Bring the tradition of eating dinner together back into the fabric of your life. The health and happiness of your family depends on it.
You might want to check out the free Escape Adulthood Guide, How to Make Mealtime More Fun (FREE!) It’s filled with 15 simple, inexpensive ideas for making mealtime more fun and keeping Adultitis out of the kitchen. Enjoy!
Watch this 3-minute video of me creating the artwork for this column from beginning to end! (It’s been sped up to avoid making you fall asleep.)
iPod Version (17.6 MB)
Hey Kim and Jason:
I love your site! I’ve lurked on an off for a while. Your post connects with me. A couple years ago, when I got laid off the first time, I used to cook meals for myself. Even though I lived by myself, I wanted to make each meal special. I had an awsome view from my kitchen window and had the bright, late afternoon sun to keep me company. I lived near a fruit and vegetable stand and picked out some great, cheap food for myself each day. I was thankful for every ounce of food I had, even if it was just Kraft macaroni and cheese. I essentially turned cooking and eating dinner a religious experience. The key to all of this, I guess, is mindfullness and gratitude for the food. It is even better when you can share this with friends and family. But it can be done even if you are living by yourself. Keep up the great work and thank you for spreading some youth!
Thanks for this one, guys! Even though my family currently consists of myself, husband and dog, we try to eat together each night…well, the dog lays under the table…thanks! :)
John and Belinda says
Kim & Jason –
We can definitely attest to the importance of a family meal each day. We have had times of great success at eating together and times of less success. We all know that this is important to the family and we all have tried, if at all possible, to be home for dinner together. Our conversations are sometimes serious and sometimes goofy, but our table is always full of love. We have two adult children due home from college any day now and we all are looking forward to adding them to our daily gatherings around the table.
Tim–Thanks for jumping in an adding to the discussion! Great point; dinner time can be as special as you make it, even if it’s a table of one.
Nicki — Good for you guys! We can’t leave out our four-legged friends, now can we?
John & Belinda — You’re right…the family dinner can have its ups and downs, but you hit the nail right on the head when you said, “our table is always full of love.” That’s the key.
In my house it was elephants that got blamed for the farting. Love this article. Family dinners are SO important. Thanks for sharing. You guys are the best!
Elephants? How did they fit under the table???
Amen, guys. I have a little blog that espouses old school thinking and principles, and the traditional family dinner is definitely “old school”….
but it shouldn’t be. We work hard to make sure we are at the table with the kids minimum 4 nights a week. It is important beyond belief!!
Rock on, Joe. We love rolling old school. (By the way, have you seen our old school shirt?)
I’m always happy to hear of families who are sticking to that old-fashioned notion of actually spending time together, especially at the dinner table!