Since my oldest child started on solid food (a little more than 13 years ago), I've been feeling guilty about how rarely our family sits down together for meals. Those first few years I worried that we were missing an opportunity to teach our kids good table manners, putting them at risk of great public humiliation should they someday be invited to dine with the queen.
Then a few years ago I read about a study that found that teens who have dinner with their families five or more times a week are more likely to earn A's and B's in school than teens who have dinner with their families fewer than three times a week. Not only that, but the kids who don't eat with their families are more likely to smoke, drink, and use drugs.
My husband's schedule keeps him at work long past dinner hour Monday through Friday. Worse, my kids are involved in so many activities that many nights, we eat in the car or while racing for the door. Any wonder I have guilt? Between my husband's job, gymnastics, piano lessons, Cub Scouts, Hebrew school, baby-sitting, and ski club, my kids are on their way to mediocre grades and afternoons spent chugging cheap wine behind the liquor store.
Lisa Belkin addressed the topic of family dinners in the New York Times recently and came away with a more measured assessment
. Belkin's family, like mine and so many others, can't get it together at dinnertime. But unlike so much of the reporting about the family dinner study, Belkin offers the nuanced view that, yes, nightly dinners bring families together, but it isn't the only place where that happens. Parents and children connect in the car, while watching television together, at bedtime, and in all of those in-between moments during the day.