Put Some Trust in Family Dinner
The over-scheduled life is killing us. It chokes out time to be quiet, it chokes out time to be creative, it chokes out time to reflect and evaluate life …and sadly, with great cost, it chokes out our time as families. Dinner is sacred. It would do us well to make it a priority and hang our “do not disturb” signs up while we sit around the table with our kids.
Sharing a meal has always been a significant connecting point for humans. Around a table, we listen, laugh, recall stories, get into debates and attach to one another. In the wildness of the day, the deadlines, practices, phone calls, emails, and the all too often waste-of-time distractions make us spin in countless directions. We are in need of a steady connection in real space. We need a calm. We need a face-to-face, together time.
As families, we bond over meals together. In order to establish trust and connection with a child or teenager, time must be spent. Interestingly, we are consistent in areas where we may need to be inconsistent in, and we fail to be consistent in areas that are essential to establishing the long-term impact of investment. For example, I have talked with parents who are religious about checking their children’s grades online and having conversations around homework, GPA’s and resume building. These parents will be at every game and awards event, but rarely do they have those organic, calm interactions that result in a child feeling known for who they are, rather than how well they perform. Ever-present parenting can seem like being in relationship with your child, but the kids do not experience it that way. Dr Madeline Levine, author and psychologist, discusses this in her best-selling book, The Price of Privilege,
Kyle, a fifteen-year-old patient of mine succinctly clarified my confusion [about why teens feel isolated from their parents]: “It’s so odd that I feel my mom is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.” Being “everywhere” is about intrusion; being “nowhere” is about lack of connection… Our children benefit more from our ability to be ‘present’ than they do from being rushed off to one more activity. Try to slow down…Perhaps the single most important ritual a family can observe is having dinner together. Families who eat together five or more times a week have kids who are significantly less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana, have higher grade-point averages, less depressive symptoms, and fewer suicide attempts than families who eat together two or fewer times a week (30,31,33)
Dr Levine goes on to explain how meals together highlight the presence and availability of family members, that there is an interest in one another and a space to be heard. These are the times where kids tend to open up about what they are learning, fearing, or experiencing that otherwise may not be offered. As the adults, we have to create these connecting points.
Now as a warning, your kids will not tell you they appreciate these dinners together. They won’t leave a “thank you” under your pillow for your hard work and sacrifice to make those times happen. They may even act annoyed and beg you to let them go to their room, hang out at a friend’s house or watch TV while they eat. Remember that as they get older, they want to separate a bit from you and they will try with all their might to do so. It is a normal part of their development as individuals. However, dinners are sacred and should be preserved. Bonding time as a family grows a mysterious connection that we must trust. Much like taking a vitamin, the attachment which evolves is happening without anyone knowing it or feeling it in the moment. But we must believe what we know is true and dismiss the complaining of our kids.
Ask yourself what is taking too much of a priority in your family that may need to be adjusted. Make dinners a “tech-free” time in your day; your kids may argue with you, but in the end they will feel the internal peace that comes with this space. We need us to choose it for them. Be aware that it is countercultural to have nights at home with no racing schedules. You will feel “behind” or like you should be doing something “productive,” but these words must be re-defined in order to have a healthy family. Your dinners as a family, your kids knowing they have a place to land, downtime to relate with one another…now these are a highly productive use of time.