Once upon a time, sitting down to dinner as a family was an everyday occurrence so routine that images of quaint Norman Rockwell paintings come to mind.
Today’s fast-paced world, full of two-family wage-earners, pressing business deadlines, extramural sports, kids’ music lessons and more have rendered the family dinner nearly obsolete for many of us.
Is this something Catholic parents should be worried about?
Yes, says a 2013 Emory University study, “Of Ketchup and Kin: Dinnertime Conversations as a Major Source of Family Knowledge, Family Adjustment, and Family Resilience.”
According to the study, as many as 70 percent of meals are eaten out of the home. On average, 33 percent of American families eat together more than twice a week, say authors Marshall P. Duck, Robyn Fivush, Amber Lazarus and Jennifer Bohanek.
“There are many who express grave concern about the changes in American family life that have been contiguous with the loss of American ‘table time,’” the study says. In addition to the decrease in family dinners, the authors say, there was an almost complete disappearance of family conversation.
This is a concern for all parents, notes the Diocese of Orange’s Katie Dawson, director of Parish Faith Formation, who says studies suggest families should eat together at least three to four times a week to ward off their children’s potential drug use, truancy, and many other negative behaviors.
“Just sit down and eat together,” Dawson says. “It doesn’t have to mean a home-cooked meal, and it doesn’t necessarily require sitting at the dining room table. “This isn’t rocket science. It’s pretty simple.”
She says, “Being together ultimately makes kids stay on the right path. Conversations at the dinner hour can become a tool for building on family life. It’s a parental habit that requires the least amount of energy for the most amount of impact.”
Eating family meals together offers children physical, mental and emotional benefits, according to thefamilydinnerproject.org, including:
– Better academic performance
– Higher self-esteem
– Greater sense of resilience
– Lower risk of substance abuse
– Lower risk of teen pregnancy
– Lower risk of depression
– Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
– Lower rates of obesity
When a family dinner is accompanied by saying grace before eating, Dawson says, it turns the family’s attention to God, who is outside of, and above us, identifying God as the source of all that is good in our lives – making it an even more important habit.
“These are powerful moments in the life of a child,” Dawson notes. “Parents are ideally in the business of helping their kids interpret their lives, who they are, and how they fit in. It doesn’t take long to turn our attention to God and say, ‘thank you.’”
Indeed, by establishing the simple dinnertime rule that “we don’t eat until we say thank-you,” families can ensure that they always say grace, asking God to make them better at loving one another, and asking Him to provide for others who don’t have everything they need.