As I prepare to leave my home of eighteen years and enroll in college, I am beginning to truly appreciate the unique connection my family shares. My three sisters are sixteen to twenty years older than I, so it is not always easy to get together as a family. However, we make the effort, sometimes traveling hundreds or thousands of miles, to spend time with each other. My fondest childhood memories are those spent with family: everyone piling in “Big Blue” for road trips halfway across the country, Sunday evening kickball with nieces and nephew, late night Boggle games and bon fires, playing Hansel and Gretel while hiking in nearby woods, experiencing the thrill of Broadway musicals, watching the Thanksgiving movie marathon of “A Christmas Story”. I realize that I am truly blessed to have so many fond memories shared with the people I love most.
I believe that this closeness my family shares, can be largely attributed to regular family dinners. With both parents often working late hours, many afterschool activities, and the difficulty of preparing nightly meals, it is not always easy to find the time to sit down as a family and have dinner. However, five or six nights a week, my parents and I still gather around the dinner table and talk about our day. Most nights, there is not much to say, but it is making the effort to be together that counts.
Family dinners keep the lines of communication open and emphasize the importance of the family unit. There are numerous studies which show the benefits of family dinners: children do better in school, teens have lower instances of substance abuse and eating disorders. However, the key issue is simply that the family is together. Of course, there are other times in the day when families could be with each other. What about breakfast, bedtime, afterschool? When I was young, my mom spent thirty minutes every day, driving me to school. But was that really “quality time”? Sure, we talked about the upcoming day, but she was often distracted by the traffic and I was usually too tired to think! It was a nice opportunity to be in each other’s company, but there is something special about sitting down for dinner. Sitting down to share a meal with the family is the perfect opportunity to eliminate distractions and focus on being together. It requires preparation and a time commitment above the expected. The food can be overcooked, the kids can be arguing, the baby can be crying, but still, it’s worth it.
For most of us, the time we spend living under the same roof with siblings and parents is limited. However, we will always be family, distance does not preclude this. While children are young, parents have the responsibility to make the family unit a priority. In my family, as with many, dinner is often the only opportunity to spend quality time together. However, even if there are other times to be with the family, sharing this meal everyday creates a special bond which will last a lifetime. I believe that the family that eats together stays together.