“Family dinners: they’re not old-fashioned, they’re just good sense!”
I was reminded of this sentiment when I saw John Lieberman’s tweet a couple of days ago that said, “So, dinner is a good thing!” He was referring to this article, but his message reminded me that beyond the scientific studies, which dutifully illustrate the downfalls of families who don’t have regular family dinners, time together with family at mealtime is truly precious. It’s the time when the hub-bub of work/school/extracurricular activities, et cetera, can become secondary so we can plug into family connection.
When I was a kid growing up with a single mom and living a rather impoverished life, one of the most consistent things my mom did was insist we sit down together every night for dinner. While my household wasn’t short on dysfunction, the value of creating real family time at meals was paramount to my mom. It didn’t matter what the meal was, though–what mattered was the time spent together, checking in with each other. In my particular family, this regularity came to a halt during my teen years; looking back, I see how those years are a definitive time for connecting and building character; I wish there had been more “normalcy” in that regard. Still, I continue the tradition of family dinners in my own life, but my goal is to maintain the community structure beyond the formative years of early childhood and tween life so I can carry it into the confusing years of adolescence. My own experience proves to me that meal time can and should become a time of unwinding and check-ins if the environment is healthy enough.
From the scientific perspective, the positive outcome of having a regular family dinner is clearly laid out: When The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASAColumbiaTM) “examined the link between the frequency of family dinners and the quality of teens’ relationships with their parents,” they discovered that “the frequency with which teens attend religious services and how much parents know about what’s going on in their children’s lives,” relates to the “likelihood of teens’ marijuana, alcohol and tobacco use.” The thing is, family dinners show potential for inclusivity. If the dynamic of a family dinner is healthy, kids will ultimately be provided a safe “container” for feeling their feelings, talking about what’s really going on, and allowing themselves to drop down into emotional safety.
While not all family dynamics are conducive to healthy family dinners, it should be noted that there is intrinsic value to forming this connectivity if circumstances allow. My son is prone to complaining and pessimism—it’s just his personality, so to help him see there is more to life than a half-empty glass and annoying school mates, we often use family dinners to go around the table and share three things that happened that day for which we are grateful. Those three statements of gratitude often spark the opportunity for conversations we wouldn’t ordinarily have, which leads to that connectivity I’m talking about.
Families in recovery are strongly urged to reignite this tradition, even if you start with one or two family dinners a week, you will see a change toward the positive. In truth, family dinners are a wonderful addition to your toolbox for reconnection. Try it. Heck, cook together and include some team building!