Many years ago, my husband and I attended a parenting workshop for parents of teens at our church. Marissa was in high school, Brittany was in middle school, and I was very open to any and all information that might help me navigate through those years. J Fast-forward about 12-15 years. We all made it, we are all a little older, wiser, and glad we don’t have to weather that same storm again!
I’m telling this story because one tip that was shared was the importance of the family meal. I grew up sitting with my family every evening at 5:30 and having dinner with my parents, two sisters and my little brother. Sometimes what Mom cooked was delish and sometimes she made liver… or Spam casserole, the Spam that comes in a can. We ate together, talked, and laughed. Sometimes we argued or one of us pouted about something. My little brother would team up with my dad and say gross things to see who could make Mom gag. Many of my childhood memories came from this time we spent together.
So… anyway, at the parenting workshop, the youth pastor shared how spending this time with your teen was valuable for many reasons and detailed them for us. While I learned valuable parenting ideas from other parts of the workshop, for me, eating dinner together was assumed. That’s how I was raised and that’s what I did with my daughters. I was surprised when another couple (casual friends of ours) said to each other, “That’s a good idea. We’ll have to try that.” Great family, great parents, raising their kids, figuring things out as they went along, as we all do. They just hadn’t incorporated eating together into their family’s routine.
So, this idea of gathering around the table and sharing a meal, it’s important. Let me list some of the benefits:
- Your kids will talk more.
- You will talk more.
- They will learn about you and you will learn about them.
- All will eat a healthier diet with more fruits and vegetables. (Probably.)
- The kids will feel valued by you.
- Research consistently shows that teens that eat meals regularly with parents are less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
- Kids learn, with you as a role model, important things like table manners and conversational skills.
- You will build a connectedness with each other, parent with child, sibling with sibling, parent with parent. This can help you get through some of the unavoidable rough patches in family life.
- It’s fun, most of the time.
Here’s a few other thoughts. Use this time to show your children how proud you are of them. Keep things light and fun. Get their input on meal planning. (One impromptu meal we laughed about was watermelon, deviled eggs and potato chips that we ate at the dining room table because our kitchen table was being used for a major school project.)
Maybe your family already shares a daily meal and it is part of your family culture. Maybe your family eats together when convenient. Maybe you have not given it much thought. Maybe you think I’m ridiculous. I don’t assume to know what is right for your family but I do know what researchers, psychologists and child development experts have found for years. There are many advantages for you and your family to eat dinners together.
In many homes, schedules don’t mesh all 7 days of the week. Do what is doable. Possibly synchronize schedules and plan? Be flexible and pledge to 3 nights per week? Maybe a Sunday special dinner is what you can manage? Perhaps Friday night Chinese take-out is more your style? What feels right for your family? I’d love to hear from you! If you do eat meals together, what other pluses can you add to my list? If you currently don’t and it feels right to try it, let me know how it goes.
Whatever you do, be intentional, be consistent and be creative. You are creating memories!