Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Importance of Meals Together

Barbara Billingsley died the other day.  Who's that?  Some of you know she played the mom on Leave It To Beaver, the classic TV program back in the late 50's and 60's. Yes, that show was a far cry from family life today and in some ways that's a good thing.  Women in the 21st century don't all wear dresses and pearls around the house, the dads aren't all suited businessmen who work at some unknown office and the kids' problems aren't worked out in thirty minutes.

But something of importance seems to also have died in the forty or so years since shows like LITB were on the tube. The family mealtime. In a lot of homes there is rarely a few minutes when the whole family stops long enough to eat together to talk about the day, life in general or one anothers hopes and dreams. There's no common place to laugh, show off projects and just enjoy each others company.

Instead, many meals these days are either eaten in shifts, in a hurry or more likely out on the road. Parents who work arrive later or meet the rest of the family at that evening's event. Parents watch from the stands or the audience while their children perform, play or practice. There's little interaction other than "Good game," or "Is your homework done?"

There is research galore that shows that at a minimum the social benefits of mealtimes together matter.  Teenagers suffer less depression, do better in school and are less likely to use drugs in homes where time together around meals is valued.

But there are other important outcomes. You get to really know each other.  You teach the value of family. You honor each other more. You learn that life is about more than just activities and accomplishment.  And perhaps most important, you have a forum in which to teach spiritual, moral and social truths to your children that you want them to carry into adulthood.

My trips overseas always remind me that other cultures are typically so much better at enjoying time together around a meal, sometimes for hours.

However, I realize that to even add a couple of meals per week to our schedule some things might need to change.  Let me suggest that those changes are worth it. Here are a few ideas.

Don't let your children dictate their schedule.  Say no to doing everything. Give them some choices but they cannot and do not need to be in a sport or activity every season.  They don't have to participate in every cool event, class or program the school or community has to offer.

Decide a reasonable number of meals per week you'd like to have together.  At least think about holding one night a week that is sacred as a family night.  If there's an activity on that night, the answer is automatically "no" unless everyone agrees you'll make an exception that week. What about Sunday?  Have you ever considered making one of the weekend days or part of it a different kind of day?

Start early. If your kids are young and you make family mealtime a priority they'll learn to enjoy it sooner and simply expect it as they get older.

Have some mealtime rules that everyone abides by.  For example, when one person's talking everyone listens. Second, no electronics. Phones, mp3 players and the like can wait for later.  That includes mom and dad! Third, no one leaves until they get permission.  And finally, no put downs or making fun of each other.

Be creative.  Parent ought to do a little thinking about some ideas that will generate some discussion, fun and enjoyment of the mealtime. Have some good questions to ask or activities to try.  For example, ask one another to guess each others favorite in a category - i.e. dessert, movie, TV show, etc.  Or pick a current topic and give everyone a chance to provide their take on it. Talk about something you learned on the weekend at church or youth group.

Expect push back but don't give in.  Be the parent.  There are lots of things in life that may seem lame or boring to a middle schooler or teen but you can expect them to be done anyway.  Your kids won't die and will likely appreciate it years from now.

We'll miss you Barbara, Mrs. Cleaver,  but maybe we can hang on to a little something from your world.  "Hey, Beave?"
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

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