As the fall wound down and soccer season ended, I got lazy. I didn’t sign my younger kids up for any winter sports. Then winter rolled along, and I didn’t sign them up for any spring sports. I was just completely unmotivated. The thought of getting the kids to all the games and practices was just overwhelming, so I procrastinated until it was too late to sign them up for anything.
And from my laziness came an accidental, wonderful discovery. All seven of us, our entire family, was home for a leisurely family dinner almost EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. No evening sports practices meant no disjointed eating here and there and no driving around until all hours of the night. We had many family dinners this year. 5 or 6 nights a week we sat at our dining table and ate together. It was awesome. We shared our Highs and Lows. We told lots of stories. Our older kids even learned how to cook dinner! Some evenings, we talked at the table for more than an hour.
Our family dinners were especially poignant for me this year, because our oldest daughter starts college in the fall. This was our last year for all of us to be gathered around the table on a normal, regular basis.
Like me, you’ve probably read about how important family dinners are. In Dr. Christine Carter’s book, Raising Happiness, she says, “The benefits of family mealtimes for kids are remarkable. Studies show that kids who eat dinner with their families on a regular basis are more emotionally stable and less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They get better grades. They have fewer depressive symptoms, particularly among adolescent girls. And they are less likely to become obese or have an eating disorder. Family dinners even trump reading to your kids in terms of preparing them for school.” (p. 173).
Pretty compelling. Why would we not eat dinner together, given the profound evidence that it is so important to our children’s development? I think our culture conspires against us having dinner together. Whether it’s a sports event, school meeting, tutoring, or church event, our family calendars can be completely filled every evening if we sign up for everything we want to do and say “yes” to every event. All of these evening events happen at exactly the same time we should be having dinner together.
I’m not sure what I’ll do next year, but I know I’m not going back to the way we used to do things, with one kid having practice Monday/Wednesday evening and the other a Tuesday/Thursday practice schedule, leaving NO evenings at home. For sure, our evening activities will be strictly limited so that we are home most nights for dinner, even if it has to be slightly early or slightly late. We will carefully consider saying “yes” to events that happen in the evening.
I know other families who have family breakfast, because dinner doesn’t work for them. We’re too slow and our schedules are too different for that to work for us. Dinner is our family time. And we are going to hold on to that time for as many nights of the week as we can for as long as we have kids in the house. Maybe I won’t know how my kids benefited from our family dinners, but I do know I’ll never regret spending that time connecting with them.