We all know dinner together as a family is important. But did you know it is the best predictor of how adolescence will go for our children? In my favorite go- to place for professional advice about “Happy Familiying,” Dr. Laura Markham, Ph.D., at the “Aha Parenting” website, discusses why dinner and eating together are the glue that keep families strong.
Dinner is a protective factor for all family members and an extremely powerful one for adolescents, especially. The more frequently teens eat with their families, the more likely they are: to do well in school, not do drugs, and become sexually active in high school, depressed, or suicidal. They are many factors at play. Families that regularly eat together, offer structure and routine to their children. They offer oversight and supervision to teens and all children, in a world that can be utterly fast and risky for all. Dinnertime offers children a sense of identity as a family, tradition, and stability. In a world where a lot is changeable and stressful, regular dinner offers a family a constant. Dinnertime is a place to check in with one another about each other’s day—the good, bad, and ugly. It is a place to ask more questions about what occurred at school; what your children’s feelings and thoughts are about family events; and it is a place to weigh in, for all parties. Most importantly, it is a place to belong, connect, and build better relationships.
As ideal as this sounds, life is not always conducive to sitting down together. Many different schedules can exist in the same house. If this is not happening at all, Markham says to aim for a few days a week. The more times you can do this, the greater the effect! Perhaps it is a single parent home. Maybe, one spouse works later than another. There is still great power in sitting down together regularly, as a family with a single parent or as a family where one parent is the regular one at dinner. Markham suggests if one parent gets home later than the other, everyone could sit down and have a snack together. Or, there could be special emphasis placed on weekend dinners together. Weekends could then be kept sacred for dinner. She also states that families may want to adjust dinner time to eat earlier or later, if it means everyone can eat together.
There are other practical things to keep in mind, according to Markham. Do not get hung up on making an elaborate dinner, at the expense of energy, patience, and time! It is better to put all these ingredients into the actual activity of connecting with one another. She also talks about creating a welcoming dinner atmosphere, and biting your tongue as a parent if needed. The idea is build up one another and connect as a family, rather than tearing each down over a difference of opinion or behavioral critique. She lists some creative resources for promoting dinner conversation, so it goes beyond, “How was your day?” One classic approach is having everyone give their high and low points of the day-or their roses and thorns. The point is to connect, converse, and feed more than just the appetite. When we do this with our families, we do so much more than eat….