This time of year finds many people making resolutions regarding the dinner plate, usually in an effort to undo the damage done to the waistline between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. But I'd like to suggest that you make an alternate resolution this year. Resolve to grab a plate firmly in both hands-and eat together with your family as often as possible.
Why? Mealtime may be the last place where the whole family can get together on a regular basis. No, sitting in front of the television doesn't count, because then we're paying more attention to a noisy, colorful box than to each other. What I'm advocating for is a time and place for everyone to share life together. Since everyone has to eat anyhow, what better place to do so than around the dinner table? It is a place to grow relationships, check-in about how things are going, and discuss character and values. In his book In Defense of Food, author Michael Pollan writes: "The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from mere animal biology to an act of culture."
The family meal can also be a place to foster faith formation in the family. "Saying grace," an act of prayer, is perhaps the most apparent way. Reading a Psalm or a short scripture passage (and discussing it), talking about current events through the lens of one's faith, and sharing highs & lows of the day are all beneficial, too.
There are also some wonderful protective factors that increase as your relationship with your child grows. A report that just crossed my desk from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse states, "Our surveys have consistently found a relationship between children having frequent dinners with their parents and a decreased risk of their smoking, drinking or using other drugs, and that parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children. Simply put: frequent family dinners make a difference." This is definitely some insight worth heeding in a fast-food, drive-thru culture.
Families are busy and eating together can sometimes be an inconvenience. But the commitment to invest time in each other really pays off in better parental engagement and parent/child relationships. A great tragedy is that we behave as if the key to healthy families is getting enough experts brainstorming around a conference table. We may make more headway by resolving to get our families talking around the dinner table.
Ian Eastman, M.A., is a community educator with Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that helps people solve problems and be happier through counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups. Learn more about this important work at www.fswc.org.