When I was growing up in the seventies, the family dinner was the most important event of the day. Everyday, my mother would prepare dinner and by five in the evening, we were all seated around the table saying our blessings. It was the American way. A sacred time. A parental expectation. The family dinner gathering was perceived as a symbolic commitment to the family group. It was a time to check in and socialize and enjoyed a good home cooked meal. My parents utilized the family dinner time as an avenue to introduced healthy food choices and teach good table manners. Our daily gathering developed our language and literacy skills by actively participating with the flow of conversation.
In some ways, it was therapeutic. An excuse to talk, vent and reflect on the day’s events. And it was a channel to receive constructive parental feedback. My parents used the dinner hour to learn about our interests, attitudes and view of the world. In exchange, we gain insight into their past and present world through their entertaining childhood stories , challenges and triumphs.
As we grew older, chats around the dinner table became more serious with topics ranging from serious discussions on the politics of the day to lighter banter over the latest fashion or music. Sharing a meal together made our family closer and more cohesive which continues to this very day.
Unfortunately, today’s American families rarely eat together anymore. In fact, the home cooked meal is a passing luxury. Family members now eat alone, watching television in their bedrooms or eat on the run in their cars. As a result, the family connection suffers and alienation and bad habits take hold. It’s a shame so many Americans are missing out on meaningful time with their loved ones, but even more so; not sharing a meal with others can lead to negative psychological and physical consequences.
For instance, Americans eat out a lot. Especially at fast food restaurants. Places with unhealthy food choices. When eating out, one has a tendency to select foods with a lot of calories, higher fat content and salt. These food choices can lead to obesity and other health problems. Making a habit of eating alone fosters alienation and self isolation. It is more gratifying and unifying to share a meal with family and friends. It promotes better relationships and gives one a sense of community.
I appreciate the time, my parents invested in the family dinner experience. So much of my learning of life’s lessons occurred through this daily family tradition. I continue this tradition with my own family. Insisting on a sit down dinner every Sunday, an opportunity to share a meal together. It was a small feat with our busy schedules, but we made it happen. Giving our daughter a sense of belonging and a rewarding experience. Although, the family dinner is not as significant as it was back in my day, the benefits of sharing a meal with family and friends outweighs the negatives of eating alone. Happy July Fourth!
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