Because of my involvement in some community organizations, I realized recently just how odd it is that my family actually gathers around the table for dinner. EVERY NIGHT. Yes, it’s true. I already knew that my practice of cooking homemade meals for my family was more than a little unusual, that many people don’t cook anymore but do some form of take-out most of the time instead (whether it’s fast food, mostly prepared food from groceries, etc.), but it just hadn’t hit me how few people eat meals together at home.
After running a few minutes late for a number of meetings for a booster club I volunteer for, I realized the reason I was the only one not there a few minutes early was that I was also the only one coming from home, from our dinner table (or maybe one of two). Our meetings have been at 6 or 6:30 p.m., right in the middle of mealtime. But rather than letting my family fend for themselves, even, I’ve just prepared meals earlier (though it’s been a little more stressful).
Everyone had told me for years that “once my kids got into high school,” they’d be so busy with extracurriculars that we’d stop our practice of mealtimes together. But my oldest is a senior in high school, and the one extracurricular that requires her to have an evening away (band practices in the evening) is only one night a week, and at 6:30. So we eat dinner together before she leaves. And our weekly youth church activity is at 7 p.m., so we all eat together before that. Other extracurriculars are late afternoon, before dinner. So, despite the dinner doomsday preachers, we have still eaten together as a family.
Yes, it’s taken some extra planning and a little extra work on my part. But it has been so worth it. I don’t think I need to point out that studies show how vital it is to eat together as a family, that each meal together bolsters teens’ emotional strength and happiness. I don’t really strive for meals together because of research. I do it because it’s fun, it’s enjoyable, it’s family bonding time. It contributes to our strength and happiness as a family unit. We’re not perfect or always happy, but we’re mostly happy together, and my kids feel secure and loved at home. Being together for dinner every night is just a part of the puzzle that makes home their refuge, their happy, secure place.
We talk about our days, we make jokes, we laugh as we quote from movies (we do that ALL the time; it’s just “our thing”: if we don’t slip in a quote from “The Princess Bride” at least a few times a week, something’s wrong). It’s all about togetherness, building and fortifying our camaraderie, our family identity.
Yeah, I think we’re now in the minority of families who eat together every night. I understand why many others have a hard time doing that; there are lots of good reasons for it. But I have fought to keep us together at dinner, and I will continue to do so, despite it being sometimes like swimming upstream, because it makes me happy. It makes us all happy. I hope I keep it up until our last little one has flown the coop, even when it’s just three of us sharing that camaraderie nightly.