“June Cleaver has left the building. She’s taken with her Ward’s slippers, her good pearls and the illusion of the perfect family sitting down to dinner together every night. It seems pretty self-evident that the family dinner is important, but only about half of the families in America can get it together most nights, according to a stew of sociological studies. Life has gone to warp speed in the decades since June Cleaver smilingly set the dining room table. There’s soccer practice, play rehearsal, SAT prep and video games. Everyone’s on a cell phone or IMing friends. And when both parents work, or a single parent runs the household, there’s often nobody home to make dinner.“
After noting the grim reality, she goes on to extol the results of numerous studies which show kids from families that frequently eat together having better grades, vocabulary and behavior. They are also less likely to smoke, drink, do drugs, have sex, develop eating disorders or become depressed. Despite critics claiming that many of these studies show association and not causation, I find the data compelling. But honestly, I don’t need scientific data to be convinced of the value of family meals. My parents demonstrated the value years ago when we enjoyed five meals cooked at home each week, one at Wednesday night church and one at a local restaurant. Those meals together are some of my best memories and added to a joyful home experience of corporate thanksgiving, predictable ritual, nutritious food, great smells, intimate conversation and family togetherness. The only time we kept the TV on was Saturday night while we enjoyed shish kabob grilled by my dad. The Lawrence Welk show provided cheese….. I mean lovely background music. I’ll admit that the experience of my children has been more hectic as described by Ms. Wolf, but despite the difficulties, we have more often than not had family meals lovingly and deliciously prepared by my wife who is also a full time hospital based pediatrician. My contribution is washing the dishes unless I can get one of the boys to do it. With our last son starting college this fall, this ritual will occur less often, but I will cherish every memory and look forward to times when everyone comes back together. If at all possible and you are not doing it already, make family meals happen in your home. Even if it doesn’t make your children smarter, they will benefit in a thousand other ways. It’s truly one of the best investments you can make!