Family Dinner Is Nice But Not Everything

Quality time?

I have to admit that whenever I read something about how great family dinners are I nod and cringe at the same time.  On the one hand, of course it’s great to sit down every night together.  On the other hand, I can’t always take the pressure.

With the publication of Laurie David’s new book, The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids One Meal at a Time we’ve had a lot of chances to read about how nice they are.  And they are! Ellen Galinsky, President of the Work and Family Institute,  wrote this week about how kids don’t remember the big fancy birthday parties as much as the regular rituals of Sunday pancakes. Which I believe, but I don’t think the pancakes are the meat here (forgive me). The larger point here is about connecting, not cooking.A few years ago, I read a Lisa Belkin column in which she admitted she rarely had dinner with her teenage sons.  At the time, yet another study had been released noting the correlation between families that ate less than two meals together per week and poor academic performance, drug use, and cigarette smoking.  But I’ll  be forever grateful to Belkin for pointing out that correlation is not the same thing as causation.  Here’s the paragraph I’ll always remember:

“So the hours I spend sprawled on the couch with the boys, arms and legs entangled, critiquing our favorite TV shows? That counts? Or the time spent in the car driving to all the activities that make dinner an impossible goal? That counts, too?

“Absolutely,” Dr. Koplewicz says.” (That’s Dr. Harold Koplewicz, director of the NYU Child Study Center.)

It’s the old quality time vs quantity time debate all over again. But time is time is time.

For a long time with our twins, dinner as a family felt like an impossible dream.  Would there really come a day when our schedules would collide and we’d be able to sit down together as a family?  The answer is yes, the time did come. I have a group of easy dinner recipes which my husband and I eat and my kids don’t.  (Here are some yours might eat from David’s book.)

But whether or not they eat, that doesn’t really matter. What matter is I know it’s good practice, sitting around the table together, but I don’t count on it always being something we can do.

There are a lot of moments in the day when I can put down the phone or turn off my computer and invite my kids in.  That, too, is good practice, and sets an example for  my kids to one day turn off their phones for me.  Dinner is lovely, but for us it’s just one kind of family time and one piece of the puzzle of family life.

What do you think? Do you connect with your kids mostly at mealtime or other times of day?

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