by Archer Crosley
If I had to stress one thing that you could do for your family to enhance its quality and productivity, it would be the family dinner or meal.
I believe there should be one meal per day where the family gets together and shares a common experience.
The family dinner is not just a time to exchange pleasantries; the family dinner is when the family sits down and reviews family affairs. How are the kids doing in school? Is Johnny cleaning is room? Where would they all like to go on summer vacation?
Communication is the key to having a successful family, and the family meal is where an important part of family communication takes place.
One large difference, that I have noticed over the years, between a family that is working well and one that is not is the level of communication.
Having a family dinner can be tough when both parents are working and the kids have varying schedules. Still, there should be at least fifteen to twenty minutes per day when you can all sit down together.
The length of the meeting is not important; what is important is that everyone, including kids, show up, and for these reasons:
The family dinner sends a statement to the child that there are family obligations, and by extension societal obligations, that are mandatory. When we tell our children that they must eat dinner with the rest of us, we are sending a subtle message that they don't live in a free-for-all universe where anyone can do anything they want any time they want.
The family dinner sends your child a message that they count as a member of the family, that what they have to say is important. Now, if all you are going to say at the family dinner is "shut up," then you are missing the entire point of having the family dinner.
The entire point of the family dinner is to make your family better and more cohesive; it's a working meeting; it's not a "show meeting" to give you the parent the illusion that you are living the life of the perfect family (which does not exist anyway).
These meetings provide the opportunity for you the parent to impress your values. Basic civil values such as giving thanks, using words like please and thank you, and asking to be excused from the table are important to the development of your child. These values teach your child how to more effectively communicate with others now and in the future.
Too many families make the mistake of breaking up the family dinner as the kids get into the teen-age years. I think that is a mistake; your teen-agers are far from being adults; and there is still a lot that they can learn from you. Don't forfeit your involvement to a television set in their room (where they go to eat by themselves) or another youth who just wants your kids to bum around and engage in activities that they are not yet ready to handle.
Teen-agers are not adults yet; and they require more involvement more so than ever. There are plenty of ways for teen-agers to express their independence; the family meal should not be one of them.
If they don't like it, too bad. You're the one with the experience, and you're the one paying the bills and the clean-up expense for their mistakes.
Make your children attend the family dinner, and make sure that their privileges are contingent upon that.
Your kids will thank you in the long run.
Archer Crosley, MD has been practicing pediatrics for over 25 years and is the author of What Successful Families Do, The Bald Truth about Parenting. Dr. Crosley lives in McAllen, Texas. Dr. Crosley graduated from the University of Kansas Medical School in 1982. He finished his residency in pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio in 1985. For more information visit www.baldmommy.com
Copyright © Archer Crosley. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.