Covering parenting and child development issues
"The oldest form of theater is the dinner table. It's got five or six people, new show every night, same players. Good ensemble; the people have worked together a lot." (Michael J. Fox)
I love family dinners. I just hate cooking them.
I grew up with family dinners. Until teenage schedules interfered, my parents, my sister and I always sat down to the evening meal together - no television, no radio - just conversation. We never considered doing anything else.
And so ever since my daughter was old enough to sit at the table, family dinners have been the norm at our house, too. Actually, they started even sooner. From the time we got married, my husband and I always sat down to dinner together. No music. No electronics. Just conversation.
The food was basic - whatever could be put together in the time frame between the end of the work day and the time my husband got home. I thought that once I retired, my dinners - or at least my interest in making them - would improve. I envisioned homemade meals at a neatly set table, as opposed to whatever I could throw together in 30 minutes or less served on paper plates atop placemats slapped down among piles of mail and homework.
One can dream.
As it turns out, retirement has not inspired me to magically enjoy the things I didn't much like before. Consequently, cooking is still one of the things I do out of necessity, not desire. I make dinner every night (okay, more like five nights a week) because preserving the family meal is important to me.
Family dinners have gotten a lot of good press, and have been cited as a protective factor in reducing everything from stress and childhood obesity to drug and alcohol abuse. That's a lot of bang for a pretty small buck.
As a mom, I appreciate that. But the motivation to continue this family ritual, despite the fact that it means I have to cook, is that I enjoy our family dinners - most of the time - and I'm proud that I've raised my daughter to participate in them. Even as a teenager, she rarely balks at the rule banning electronics from the table (though she does try to slip in her version of dinner music from time to time) and she's an active participant in the conversation. Our discussions aren't the stuff of college lecture halls, but they do span topics from school and leisure activities to politics and religion. Table manners aren't always restaurant-quality. They're better than those displayed in her school cafeteria, but admittedly worse than those modeled on The Brady Bunch. Time at the table doesn't last for hours like it does for family dinners in the movies, but it kicks off our evening, and discussions begun at the table often pop up later on.
I think these dinners are one of the things I will miss most when my daughter goes to college. While my husband and I enjoy the occasional dinner for two when her school activities make dining as a family impossible, we feel my daughter's absence. Romantic dinners are certainly nice, but once our duo became a trio, the dynamic changed, and the allure of those meals faded. These days, they're like a rich dessert - something to be savored from time to time, but not the repast that sustains us.
I'm relieved that family dinners don't have to be complicated. They don't require gourmet entrees or linen tablecloths or even matching dinnerware because what's on the table is secondary to who is around it. And I'm even more relieved that such a simple thing can have such a profound effect. Unlike so many other aspects of parenting, it's practically foolproof - make dinner, add family, blend and simmer.
Now that's a recipe even I can handle.