In case you haven’t heard by now, eating together as a family is good for your kids. Study after study has found that children who eat frequent meals with their families are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and are more likely to make good grades in school. Parents who manage to pull off regular family dinners pat themselves on the back and feel confident that they are doing all they can to reduce their kids’ chances of becoming drug-abusing dropouts. Good for them, but what about the rest of us?
The idea of the family dinner as the ultimate preventative parenting tool has become so ingrained that those of us who can’t manage it often feel tremendous guilt. Whether it be due to work, school or extracurricular activities, many families like mine find getting together for dinner to be incredibly difficult if not impossible. Still, we run ourselves crazy trying to get a meal on the table and beat ourselves up when we can’t.
But is it really worth killing ourselves to get everyone gathered around that tuna casserole? Probably not. Even the experts will admit that the science behind the whole family dinner debate can be misleading. Eating meals together as a family is associated with better outcomes for kids, it doesn’t cause it. And likewise, not eating meals together doesn’t guarantee your child a bleak future.
What does matter is being involved in your children’s lives. Experts say that parents who place importance on eating meals together are likely to be actively involved in other aspects of their children’s lives as well. It’s not about the food, it’s the quality time.
I’ve long since given up on the elusive dream of the family dinner. Even when I could manage to to pull it off, I was usually so stressed and harried that I couldn’t relax and enjoy it. We eat separately and happily now and find our quality time where we can. And if that quality time is sometimes found in the drive-through lane of a fast-food joint, then so be it.