If you've had the chance to read our latest seasonal email-newsletter, we asked for your comments regarding family meals. Please leave your comments at the end of this post:
Family Dinners by Mitzi Carlson
Fall is upon us, and kids are back to school.... As the weather cools and the carefree, lazy days of summer are fading into memories, schedules seem to get more and more hectic. Between school, sports, extra-curricular activities, jobs, friends, and....well, life - we're lucky to get even a half hour of just "family time" a day. Nevertheless, despite the obstacles, we make a valiant effort to eat meals together, with as few distractions as possible (no TV, no computers, no phone calls, etc.). Yes, we make the effort, but no, it does not very often play out the way I might wishfully envision it in my head. In an ideal world, my children would be playing peacefully with each other in the family room, enabling me to fix a tantalizing and healthy meal in the kitchen. As I announce that dinner will be ready in about 10 minutes, child #1 would notice by glancing at the chore chart that it is his week to set the table, and would do so without being asked. Child #2 and Child #3 would quietly go about picking up whatever toys they were playing with, and then proceed to wash hands and come get up to the table. My family would exercise complete manners while eating, they would have nothing but sincere compliments for the meal I prepared, and our dinner table would be full of witty and enlightened conversation. The activities of our day would be shared, bonding would ensue, and my husband would offer to do all the dishes and clean up the kitchen so that I could simply relax after cooking such an amazing meal.
Now here's a more realistic scenario: Around 5:00 p.m., as I realize that nothing is thawed out and I have no thoughts on what to prepare for dinner, I alternate between opening the pantry and refrigerator doors, hoping something will jump out at me. When nothing does, I continue to go back and forth between the two, as if the contents of either will suddenly change after the third time I open the door. About this time, my youngest begins to do "figure 8's" between my legs, and under no circumstances can be persuaded to join her fighting brothers in the family room. I finally settle on a course of action, and begin preparing dinner, trying to ignore the whines of the "figure 8-er" who now wants me to pick her up. I stumble no less than four times on separate toys that have mysteriously made their way to the kitchen floor, and Child #2 is sent to Time Out on three different occasions. I have repeatedly informed Child #1 at least six different times that it is time to come set the table, but yet he is still sitting on the family room floor, playing with the 72 million toys that are all out at the same time. When we finally sit down to eat, I am met with vehement protests about what I have prepared. (In fact, I have noticed a distinct correlational trend: The more time and effort I put into a meal, the more my children complain about it.) During the meal, food is launched from the highchair, plates and cups are overturned, spills occur, and there is an unseemly amount of belching. When I ask Child #1 what he learned about in school, "I don't know" is his dismissive reply. We end the meal by setting a timer. If the children have finished eating by the time it goes off, they get a small treat. If not, they are tearfully dismissed from the table, and nothing further will be served until breakfast the next morning... And on to the next battle - getting them to clean up the 72 million toys that are still all over the family room.
OK - so maybe that's more of a "worst case scenario" than actually the norm - but despite the obstacles, we still try to have daily meals, especially dinner, together as a family.
According to The Importance of Family Dinners, 2006, by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, compared to kids who have fewer than three family dinners per week, children and teens who have frequent family dinners are:
- At a 70% lower risk for substance abuse.
- 1/3 less likely to try alcohol.
- 1/2 as likely to try cigarettes or marijuana.
- 1/2 as likely to get drunk monthly.
The statistics are definitely food for thought, but it's more than just that for me.... My children are growing so fast... at times it seems almost warp-speed. So I'll cherish every moment I get - spilled food, complaining, and all.
We want to hear from you!! What are the biggest challenges for your family when it comes to mealtimes? What solutions or tips do you have for others who may be experiencing the same frustrations? Please leave your comments!