Relative to our existence on this planet, family dinners have not been out of “vogue” for all that long. However, it is certainly safe to say that long gone are the days of Ozzy and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver. Without question, the family dinner is on the endangered species list somewhere between the Black Rhinoceros and the White Tigers.

As a former family therapist, one of the things that I noticed the most in my work was the breakdown of the family infrastructure. While many families struggle to make ends meet, children are taking more of a proactive role in rearing themselves. This has taken shape in many different ways. One of the biggest losses I have seen in this new age of family roles are the days of sitting down at the table together to enjoy mealtime. This is a great travesty with regard to the continued survival of the family unit. As in the past, the dinner table was used as a place to update, negotiate, and interact with our families. Even if you didn’t talk, it was time to just be present with people. Now many families operate on alternating shifts, fast food, and via cell phone. In some cases, mothers have become short order cooks. Sadly, for many families, the only time you will see them eating together is when they go out or there is a “special occasion.”

The question for some may be, “What is the big deal about eating dinner together?” A myriad of research has conclusively shown that family dinners are positively linked to improved grades, a decline in drug use, and an overall positive, sense of self within children. The small act of eating together has so much affirmative influence that it is no wonder that many of our children are struggling without it. Granted, eating meals together is not the end of the story. Quite obviously, parents, schools, and society, in general, need to take a more proactive approach to child-rearing. After all, once upon a time, it was common (practiced) knowledge that it “took a village to raise a child.” Now children are their parent’s problem and in extreme cases, the problem of the judicial system.

Of course, children around the world have challenges during adolescents. However, from what I have observed, there is less likelihood for the extremes that American children encounter. As an example, when I lived in Korea, I was bowled over by the amount of respect that children show to their elders. As a point of fact, the Korean language is set to reinforce this. Moreover, Koreans don’t have words for ADD and ADHD. Juvenile crime rates don’t increase over the summer months. In fact, they are nearly nonexistent. In general, South Korea is one of the safest places in the world. Most Korean people don’t think to steal, vandalize, or disrespect others. Any act against another is a direct reflection of the family. If one person makes a mistake, the whole family takes responsibility.

The other piece of their culture…they eat together. Not only do they eat together, but during a traditional Korean meal, people eat from the same bowls of food. They share everything on the table. They don’t serve themselves individual portions on “their” plate. Food is not just something to eat. It is a way of life; a way to welcome; a way to acknowledge success, birth, and death. It is a way to say thank you and good luck. It is a way to bring the family together. As a result, their society positively reflects this sense of family unity.

As Americans, the ongoing quest for something outside of ourselves is slowly becoming the cancer of our society. It is eroding away at the things that mean the most to us—our families and our sense of wholeness. It has taken away our family dinners and replaced them with T.V dinners. As a result, we are turning to pills, books, and therapists to ferret out some great answer to our most simplistic of problems. Some parents are looking for answers to “why” their children are acting out. They want to know how to communicate with and understand their children as the “divine little people” that they are. I will save you some of the trouble of looking for some magic answer because, in some cases, it can be as simple as “respectfully” listen to your children and have meals together.

Granted, there are many families that engage in daily dinners together. I know of some families that not only make it a rule to eat together, but use the time after dinner to have family meetings or game nights. These are wonderful ways to connect with your loved ones. The point of dinner isn’t that it becomes some elaborate ordeal. It can be something as simple as sitting down with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It can also be a picnic lunch in the park, or milkshakes at the mall. The key ingredient is taking time with our loved ones–acknowledging, loving, and appreciating their presence. Jim Rohn once said, “Your family and your love must be cultivated like a garden. Time, effort, and imagination must be summoned constantly to keep any relationship flourishing and growing.” Dinner anyone?

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