The value of family dinners and giving our children presence

What if there was one thing you could do to lessen the likelihood that your child would get involved with smoking, drinking or doing drugs; lessen his/her chance of developing obesity; and help him/her do better in school? What if that thing was as simple as having regular family dinners together?

Sept. 22 is Family DayMonday, Sept. 22, marks the 8th annual Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children – “a national movement to inform parents that the parental engagement fostered during frequent family dinners is an effective tool to help keep America’s kids substance free.”

From 2003 to 2008 research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University has consistently found that “compared to children who have frequent family dinners (five or more per week), children who have infrequent family dinners (less than three per week) are two and a half times likelier to have used marijuana and tobacco and one and a half times likelier to have drunk alcohol.”

At Family Guide: Keeping Youth Mentally Healthy and Drug Free, they also believe in the importance of family mealtimes. Jeanie Lerche Davis of WebMD agrees that family dinners are important and lists 10 Benefits of Family Dinners, including “kids are less likely to become overweight or obese” and “school grades will be better,” as well as 10 Tips for Organizing Family Dinners.

Pretty impressive for just eating a meal together, right? I think most people would agree that it’s not simply the act of eating together, but of engaging in conversation – in talking to your children and listening to them talk to you – that really what makes the difference. Dinner just happens to be that one time of day that busy families might have an opportunity to sit down and spend a few minutes with each other.

Some of CASA’s secrets to having successful family dinners include:

  • start the pattern of eating dinner together while children are young
  • turn off the TV and avoid taking phone calls during dinner time
  • encourage kids to get involved in meal planning and preparation
  • discuss what happened during everyone’s day
  • keep it positive and make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.

Gina from A Wrestling Addicted Mommy’s Blog recalls that growing up, she and her family used to have dinner and talk about their day, but admits now with her own family, this is something they are lacking. She also points out a recent survey from Mom Central that said 98% of the mom’s polled think that children do benefit from eating meals at the table with the families, but only 61% of families actually do this every day.

The blogger at All Rileyed Up also recalls family dinners while she was growing up (complete with grace before meals, grace after meals, and on Sunday, the whole rosary) says, “Family dinners are much harder to pull off these days, now that I’m the one running the family, partly because Husband’s work schedule is erratic and partly because I am a lazy bum. … For a while, it wasn’t a big deal to me, but now that the kids are getting older, I feel a need to give them something to remember, a time the whole family can count on being together.”

I find it fairly easy to have dinner with my family every night, but that’s because a) (thankfully) my husband is able to get home from work at a decent hour and b) my children are still young and not involved in after-school programs, sports, nor do they have homework or jobs to go to. I imagine it will prove to get more and more challenging as my kids get older, but I think it is something worth striving for and we will do the best that we can.

Do you have regular family dinners with your child(ren)? If so, will you make an effort to continue that throughout the teenage years? If not, will you make it a priority on Sept. 22 and/or consider trying to do it more often?

October is AP MonthAlong the same lines and in keeping with the spirit of spending family time together, Attachment Parenting International has declared October Attachment Parenting Month, where the theme is “Giving Our Children Presence.” Partnering with Attachment Parenting International to celebrate and promote Attachment Parenting Month are AskDrSears.com, Mothering magazine, and Infant Massage USA.

Julie, an API leader who blogs at ChezArtz, explains that the theme “focuses on the benefits of spending quality time with our children, especially in the run up to the very consumer-oriented holiday season. Although all children love toys, it is our presence, not presents, that they truly crave.”

Scylla at Law and Motherhood notes some of the ways she tries to keep her family connected like not having a DVD player in her car and bringing her children into the kitchen to help with cooking, but also admits its not always easy to remain present in their lives. She asks her readers, “how you give your presence to your children, when you are too worn out to be present for anyone else?” After all, we as parents all find ourselves in those situations, sometimes on a regular basis.

API Speaks, the blog of Attachment Parenting International, will be holding a blog carnival focusing on “giving our children presence,” complete with giveaways, during the month of October.

While I know not everyone agrees with attachment parenting being the best fit for their family, I think we can all agree that giving our children our presence is an invaluable gift and something so important especially in today’s world. As October approaches, I will be considering how I might be more present in my children’s lives and I encourage you to do the same. It’s often the little things – taking a few minutes to read a book, build a blanket fort, go for a walk together, have dinner together while you talk and especially listen – that mean the world to a child.

You can learn more about AP Month, including events that will be taking place around the country, at Attachment Parenting Month.

What will you do to give your child(ren) your presence in October?

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Cross-posted on BlogHer

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22 thoughts on “The value of family dinners and giving our children presence

  1. Great to see that the importance of meal time has its own growing movement! I posted back in January on the importance f shared meal time for my family. We eat without dad 5 nights a week as he is not home from work in time, but the 5 of us sit and talk about our days and enjoy each others company. It is actually a part of the day that I look forward to.

    On weekends we have dad eat with us as well which means a lot to the children.

  2. I have read this too. Eating meals together also reduces the likelihood of promiscuity in teenagers too. At least that’s what I’ve read. We have family meals 6 to 7 mights a week depending on schedules. It’s very important to my husband and me. I get very selfish with that time. I love having my whole family at the table just talking, laughing and sharing!

  3. We only have the kids on weekends so maybe that makes it easier. I don’t know. 99% of the time we eat together. It is rare that if a person is home, they don’t eat with the rest of the family. Sometimes, a person is simply not home because they are working.

    Because we only have the kids on the weekends, we tend to focus the weekend on the children. We read them books or take them to the park or whatever. I think that is a lot easier to do when you only have them for 48 hours and not 24/7

  4. Great post! You are so right that it get’s more difficult as they get older, but it is still just a matter of management and making sure that we don’t overload our schedules and our kids schedules to the point that dinner together can’t happen. Some things, like sports practices, are out of our control unless we are the coach of the team. A great book that looks at the problem of over scheduling how to maintain a family life is Revolution in the Bleachers. http://www.revolutioninthebleachers.com/

  5. Growing up we had family dinner pretty much every night. You had to have a very important activity going on to get out of dinner. My parents were very careful to make sure that we did not over schedule events. To them our first priority was school and homework so we had to prove an activity would not push down our grades and the second that happened we were out of the activity.

    I plan on continuing this with my kids. I think that if you start young when it is easier then it becomes natural by the time they are teenagers.

  6. We eat dinner at 5:30 and dh is there with us most of the time. (There is a period when the time conflicts with synagogue but it is only a few weeks a couple times a year.) It is wonderful and we enjoy it.

    As for October, we are going to cut back on TV. With all of the stuff and sickies going on we’ve been watching a bit too much (all of us). So we are getting back to the minimal TV we used to do.

  7. I grew up in a family that strongly believed in family suppers. We would sit at the counter and my dad would ask each of us what we learned that day at school. We’d each share, then we’d discuss it and talk about our parents’ days as well. I remember boyfriends and girlfriends of our family members being shocked when they came over and my dad turned the question on them, “What did YOU learn in school today?” Haha!

    My husband and I sit down to supper each night, and it’s something that we both want to do when we have children, as well. On the rare nights that we can’t eat together (for example, Open House at my school), we both miss our time together. I understand that schedules make it tough, but this time spent unplugged and with eachother is wonderful quality time. It’s also a great way to focus on healthy eating.

  8. What a wonderful article. I couldn’t agree more. Family dinners are very very important part of bonding and being together as a family. If there is the odd night that my hubby comes home really late from work and the kids eat first, i always sit and chat with them. One thing my hubby and I do each night is read with our kids and just spend some bonding time alone with them chatting about their day at school and things that matter to them before they go to bed.

  9. My kids and I eat dinner together every night and when Dh’s work schedule allows, he eats with us. The nice thing about my husband’s work schedule is that if he is unable to have dinner with us, he is there for breakfast instead. So although we may not have a traditional family dinner every night with all 4 of us, we do have breakfast together.

  10. We eat family dinners at the table pretty much every night and have since the kids started to eat real meals. I’m hoping to keep it up when they get older. :)

  11. It makes me feel a little sad there is a need for a day to remind people to eat with their kids. Same with Annual get outside week, like people come on.

    We ALWAYS eat together (unless one is out of town). It is worth it. Our kids are worth it.

  12. I don’t even have kids yet, but fully intend to have family dinners when I do. My husband and I always eat together when we’re both home (no eat-and-run or snack-while-walking-around) and I have really, really good memories as a child of sharing discussion around the dinner table. For a year or so we had a huge world map hanging on the wall by the dining room table, and my dad always had some interesting recent news story to tell us about. It was like world story time, though really I think it was a secret geography lesson :-)

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