How connected is your family? Do you regularly spend time focusing on each other? As cell phones have helped us stay in touch with those not physically with us, it’s distanced us from those we’re sitting next to (see Eric Pickersgill’s Removed series for a powerful visual of our attachment to mobile devices).
How do you make the most of the time you have with your kids? As a working mom, I only have about 3 hours between when I get off work and I tuck them into bed–that includes traveling to and from the office, the time it takes to make dinner, and the bedtime routine itself. And if I’m really being honest, I’m guilty of spending some of that time with my face in my phone, decompressing from the day.
Even on days I don’t do a great job of focusing on my kids during the time we have together, I do try to prioritize eating dinner seated at the table together. I think it’s an important way to connect after spending most of the day apart.
Is it normal to eat as a family?
When I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher asked our class of 30+ students how many sat down to eat dinner with their family each night. I was one of just two students that raised my hand.
While I’d previously thought it was “normal” to eat dinner as a family each night, I realized it was actually more of the exception. But then I thought about it. When I had dinner at my friends’ houses, they often ate in front of the TV or different rooms altogether.
While this is anecdotal, I do think this trend has continued on. And I get it. After a long day, it’s so much easier to just order pizza and let the kids watch a movie while we eat. But lately I’ve been noticing the special family dinner and movie nights are becoming a little too common.
Why are family dinners important?
But when it comes down to it, eating together around a table is important.
Studies show that family meals can:
- Increase productivity, self-esteem, and resilience.
- Decrease depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, and more.
In fact, elementary-aged children that regularly eat with their families often get better grades than those that don’t—the effect is stronger than doing homework, art, or sports. And it can reduce risky behavior for teens, with 80% saying that family dinner is the time of the day they’re most likely to talk to their parents.
If you think about it, there’s something about eating that creates a bond. For example, when you’re dating someone, activities generally include dinner. When you bond with coworkers, it’s often over food. Major holidays across cultures even include sharing food with family and friends.
How can you prioritize family dinners?
Start by making time to eat together part of your routine, whether it’s for dinner, lunch, breakfast, or a late-night snack. Start with once a week and build from there. Turn off the TV and put down the phones so you can focus on the people sitting around your table. We have a “no cell phones at the dinner table” rule at my house. Given that my kids are too young for phones, at this point the rule applies to just me and my husband. But we try to hold each other accountable to it!
Not every meal you eat together will be the idyllic picture of life in the ‘50s. At my house, it’s usually just me and my three kids (my husband has an odd work schedule), so it’s usually far from that image. I often hear a chorus of, “This vegetable is gross” and “I’m not eating that!” from my older two kids while my toddler throws his food all over the floor. But the habit of sitting down to eat together creates an important bond, and starting at a young age builds a foundation we can grow on.
Family meals provide dedicated time for us to sit and talk to each other. Talk about your day or share what you’re looking forward to this coming weekend, next month, or next year. Even though conversation may not always be puppies, rainbows, and unicorns (as much as my 8-year-old daughter would love it to be!), the shared experience will increase communication with each other and form a stronger connection.
While family dinner time is a fantastic way to model appropriate behavior and teach things like, “Don’t put your feet on the table,” and “Your hair isn’t a napkin,” I think it’s important to keep the focus on connecting with each other. Some nights are better than others, but by taking a few moments to look each child in the eye and ask them how they’re doing and what they think, you’re showing them that you value their feelings, opinions, and thoughts.
Do you eat dinner together as a family? If so, what are common topics you like to bring up around the table?