MISSOURI, March 17, 2018. — Soccer, school clubs, jobs, friends. Just a few of the things that interrupt what was once a regular occasion in most families lives. The hour or so spent sitting together for supper. The family dinner. In addition to the conversation, the time spent cleaning up taught brothers and sisters to work together.
Dinner was when the family came together. From the fields of our youthful days. To the anticipation of first dad, then mom coming home. Everyone taking a break to talk, share, laugh, and yes, argue.
But those arguments were as important as the stories that made us laugh. It allowed us, in what we might call a safe space today, to form opinions and state our positions. And to stand up for them.
The formulation of the family dinner
The Kennedy family is one family known for their competitive family dinner. Kennedy secretary Evelyn Lincoln’s 1965 book My Twelve Years with John F. Kennedy, she writes:
“His inquiring mind and search for all the facts reflected, it seemed, the training he received around the family table when he was growing up. His father would assign a subject–Algeria, for example–to one child and instruct him to find all he could on the subject. Then he would tell the other children to do the same so they could question the first one when he made his report and see how much he really knew. Both father and mother tried to develop alert minds in their children by giving them mental exercise, just as they encouraged physical exercise. And the same competitive spirit prevailed at the table discussions that was apparent in the touch football games on the lawn.”
The Kennedy’s are an example of how the family dinner was more than just a time to catch up, but a time to challenge, learn and teach the children to develop an interest in family news as well as domestic and world news.
They learned to communicate. And the daily event was sacrosanct to the family.
Lincoln also writes
There were family rules, and the children quickly learned what it took to be acceptable in their parents’ sight. ‘We were computerized at an early age,’ Eunice [Kennedy] said later. The youngsters were required, for example, to be at the dinner table on time. Rose [Kennedy] later quoted a favorite maxim:
‘Promptness is a compliment to the intelligent, a rebuke to the stupid.’
“If the children arrived even seconds late, they did so at their peril.”
The family dinner in our home
Married to Betty for seventy years, raising four children, we sat together as a group, around the family table where so many important decisions are made. And we would talk. The food was filling, healthy and always delicious. It was meat, potatoes, and vegetables. There was usually a home-baked pie, or jello with whipped cream, for dessert.
As we try to make sense of a child that takes a gun to kill their schoolmates, an incidence that happens far too often, we might want to consider something as simple as the family dinner. At that dinner, parents take the time to look at their children, to see if something might be wrong.
To query who they are friends with, what they are doing, how school is progressing.
Today, dinner is too often fast-food as mom and dads are working, or its a single family household with one parent trying to do the work of two. The kid’s time is fractured by school and then after school activities. And those ever-present smartphones and electronic devices that make them all seem a little pale.
To me, the loss of the family dinner time – which is time spent together as a unit – is changing our culture. And our children. Particularly those that need to be caught in a web of family togetherness and introspection.
However, that’s from a time and place I am from-
Get started with your family dinner with these 101 Questions for Family Dinner