When I was growing up, we always ate together as a family. In fact, all of my friends had sit down meals with their families. I did not know anyone personally who did not eat meals together as a family (well, except my aunt who didn't eat regularly anyway and didn't have a family to cook for either). This was just normal. I raised my children to expect dinner at 6:00 pm and if you didn't make it, you might not get any. It was easier for me, the hapless cook, to prepare meals once for many rather than having the kitchen open at all hours. All the kids in the neighborhood knew the Bailey House Rules about dinner and did not give our kids grief about needing to get home by dinnertime. Little did I realize the benefits that would come from this simple plan.
We had just a few rules. 1. Everyone needed to be present before we could start. 2. We always had a prayer together. 3. And we never allowed outside interruptions such as the television or telephone or even friends. This was where we connected with each other. We reported about the activities of the day. We calendared upcoming events. We practiced good manners. We told stories and laughed together. This was just our normal routine, but the kids began to let us know how out of the norm we were. They weren't complaining. They liked being together as a family, but they worried more and more for their friends. The kids could see the difference between our ways and the ways of the world. Now that our children are raising families of their own, I am happy to say that eating together as a family is a high priority for them, too.
Studies have shown that the simple act of regularly eating together as a family has amazing lasting benefits. One of the best benefits according to the studies is that children grow up better able to COMMUNICATE. They learn to use language to express clear thoughts and make real arguments, to state a problem and discuss with others towards a solution. Learning to take part in lively conversation and discussion is not easy, especially for timid young people, but what better place to start learning those skills than with people who love you and care about your success.
Teachers see children daily and can guess what happens or does not happen in their homes from the kid's behavior. It is easy to recognize children who have parents in the home who actively "parent." It is also easy to guess which children have the lack of "parenting" going on in their homes. As I teacher, I also saw children who were so engrossed in their "virtual" worlds of video games and music that they could not use their own language to form complete sentences, let alone make a good argument or explanation.
It is interesting to see the reality television shows popular now that are trying to educate people about the benefits of eating dinner together as a family. Our parents really did know best. Better to set up good habits from the start than go through painful interventions later. So much good can come from sitting together around the dinner table ... and not just tasty desserts!