What Happened to Dinnertime?

When I was a young girl, I remember every day culminating with my family sitting around the dinner table. I was lucky enough to have my Dad home every night for dinner, 6:30 p.m sharp. The table was always pre-set, then upon my Dad’s arrival, we all sat down together with no interruptions.  It was dinnertime. That simple.

Television and phone calls were not allowed (obviously, cell phones did not exist then so “texting” wasn’t even a forbidden consideration).  Nothing fancy, no special holiday, just family dinner.  Cross- talk conversation, playful sibling banter, and repetitive prodding from Mom to clean our plates, were all common backdrops for our typical family meal.

I’m not suggesting that life was as perfect as the truly idealized families portrayed in Father Knows Best or Leave it to Beaver, but just that this setting was a big part of the American pop culture in the late 50’s. Dinnertime seemed somewhat sacred in all our homes.

Decades later, as I grew my own family, I wanted to implement these similar values into my own life.  Like my Dad, my husband was able to be home for dinner every single night, and it’s something my adult children still remember.  But let’s morph to the 80’s and the new world of Technology.  Its impact impeded a great deal on my family dinner.  For starters, there were more interruptions and distractions.  Televisions were glaring at high volume, cordless phones were ringing every 10 minutes, and my kid’s obsession with hand held video games delayed them from sitting down at the dinner table on time. Eventually, we all gathered and happy chatter ensued.  Family dinner was very important to me and I cherished it.  It was a time that the whole family would congregate and catch up.  It was a place for intimate conversation in the natural setting of our home. I can remember gazing around the table, taking it all in and knowing very well, that it was indeed a precious time; a special time that I would never get back.

And then it happened. My children got older and they were smitten by organized sports. The grueling schedules ruled us.  If that weren’t enough, my husband decided to enlist as the Basketball Coach throughout both of my children’s athletic careers.  Needless to say, you see where this is going.  My family dinner was crumbling before me.  Gone were the days of relaxing dinners, and instantly replaced with quick snacks or a slices of pizza, all in attempt to make it to early practices before the games.

So that was then, and now I fear that it is far worse today.

Busy households are a juggling act; balancing dinner meals, homework, tutors,and carpools, with too many extra-curricular activities.  As a result, a “balanced” meal, albeit a sit-down family dinner, are no longer an option.  It’s more like a sandwich on the go, a fast food stop. or sometimes just a protein bar or shake! Factor in the more advanced technology and the rise in social media mania, and you’re dealing with a whole other level of detachment.  Now we have iPhones, iPads, texting, Facebook and Twitter. Most importantly, it’s encroaching on the privacy of family home life 24/7 .

So what has happened to the nuclear family? Is it breaking down?  Are we over- scheduled or disconnected?, or both? The problem is of course, it’s not that we don’t want to…but because there’s no time to.  Does it come down to a time-management issue?

Clearly the busy family of today is struggling with optimal quality time. This might suggest that we are changing priorities in our family culture. Overwhelming schedules push out valuable time to connect.  Shouldn’t we carve out the time to chow down with the family like we used to?

Now that my children are grown, I yearn for those table conversations; a cacophony of yelling, whining, teasing, story telling, and belly laughing til it hurt.  I recall it all with a sense of completeness, sweet and utter joy.  True gems came out of those family meals that I will never forget.

Children need both relationships and routines they can depend on.  Dinnertime is a great time to check in, connect, and share with your family. Dining in the privacy of your home can be intimate, even it’s noisy and chaotic. It’s a place where the family dynamics engage naturally, without outside distractions.  No television, no video games.  Just eating and talking.  Family in the raw.  Its value is truly under-rated.

Think about how often you have family dinner. Do you make the time? Is it on the schedule?

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