No Dinner Table? No Problem!

Family Dinner

Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are from the kitchen table.  Yes, I have memories of my one trip to Disneyland, my brothers pushing me into the hot springs at Yellowstone, and the one time my dad took me shopping, just him and me, to get my pink tutu for me to be a Sugar Plum Fairy in our elementary school’s rendition of The Nutcracker—-but somehow memories of the kitchen table edge these out.

Growing up the youngest of six kids, it was a given that family life was a little bit more exciting than in a home with a few less kids.  This was no truer than at the dinner table.  I remember I sat next to my dad for every meal; he at the head of the table, with me at his right side.  I remember, still devastated, one of the rare occasions (by that I mean one of the 2 times) we had steak and I flipped my plate dropping my steak to the floor trying to cut it.  I remember my older brother who hated peas struggling to force the allotted amount down with the assistance of a beverage.  I remember laughter, and I certainly remember tears.  But I know the real reason I have so many memories centered around our dinner table is because so much of who I dreamed to be, who I am now, and who I now strive to be was realized while sitting around that table with my family.

So is it a problem now that, fast forward 20 years, I don’t even have a dinner table?  Is it a problem that my young family of husband, Lauren (4), Gordon (2), and I sit around a counter for all our meals?  Clearly not. Where you gather as whatever family you have at whatever point you are in your life doesn’t matter, it is only the fact that you gather—and gather regularly—that matters.  Research continues to show that family dinner not only is an efficient way to get the family fed, but also results in better academic performance, higher self-esteem, decreased substance abuse, decreased rate of teen pregnancy, lower risk of depression, fewer eating disorders, a greater sense of resilience, and lower rates of obesity.  It is surprising, and yet not surprising at all, that in an age when we as wives, husbands, mothers and fathers, spend hours researching the best preschool, the most effective way to teach our children to listen to us, the right sports team, or how to be the best parent or spouse, that something as simple as eating together may be more important to our children’s success and our success as a family than any other effort.

I am grateful that my parents chose to wrangle all six of us around the kitchen table two to three times a day.  I am grateful that they were present, that the TV’s and Ataris (yes Ataris) were off and they were with us. Though it may have been just so they could know what nutrition each of us was getting, they ended up whether they liked it or not knowing a whole lot more about all of us, as did we.

Today when my siblings and I converge back on my parents’ house, the kitchen table is still the main gathering place. I think the food has gotten better, even if it is just nostalgia for mom’s home cooking.  Our meals have expanded to a long row of tables to seat the now 22 of us the few times a year when we get the chance to all be together (not often enough).  What our dinners have grown to is something that makes my 90 year old grandpa more proud than any of his other accomplishments (and there are many). The love we feel at those times is just the result of what our dinners at that old kitchen table taught us:  we mattered each of us, we were loved all of us individually, and that nothing else was more important.

So each day as I worry about what to make for dinner for my little family; whether I am giving my kiddos enough veggies; and am I making something my husband will love, I try to remind myself that what’s important is that we gather.  I know my efforts to feed and gather my family go far beyond just providing the appropriate nutrients or receiving praise from my husband for a meal he loves. Family dinners create a lifetime of memories we will hold on to, but more importantly, they build a foundation for our family to lean on and grow from. I think I should have this placed as a reminder on my phone everyday at 5 pm, just when I should be getting dinner ready, especially when it is sometimes the last thing I want to do.

Facebook Comments