by Nancy Peplinsky, Founder Holistic Moms Network
Above my over-sized dining room table are the words “The fondest memories are made when gathered around the table.” Growing up, my parents were relatively flexible in their parenting style but were strict about always sitting down to dinner as a family. The dinner table was a place not only to enjoy a meal, but a place of connection, conversation, and exploration. My father was ever the scholar and always intellectually curious. As a passionate teacher of the humanities, he brought his interests in art, literature, language, history, and philosophy to the table, quite literally. Dinner conversation could extend hours beyond the completion of a meal, debating life’s great questions, comparing interpretations of art, pondering philosophical questions, or even exploring everyday events. Certainly, as teenagers, we came begrudgingly to the table at times, but it was also a rite of passage to be able to debate my father well and to learn through our own intellectual exploration and processes. His dedication to learning and education were infectious. My mother’s appreciation of the performing arts and her Italian heritage often made for a delicious and cultural experience.
When I started my own family, I not only frequently channeled my grandmother’s love for cooking but also my parents’ dedication to mealtime. Around the table, my children tried unique foods, learned new words, smiled, and cried. As they got older, we explored their days at school, their interests, their friendships. I bought conversation cards when they hit their clammed-up pre-teen years, asking selected questions about hopes and dreams, favorite memories, or basic likes and dislikes. When my older son developed a love of all things gaming, the table became a place to try out new card and board games, battle over a Scrabble board, or sit with extended family in teams playing clever games like Chronology and Smart Ass. Even now, when he ventures home from college – where he is studying game design – we test game prototypes, try out new board games picked up in our travels, and visit old favorites.
The table is place where we have had hard talks and great laughs. There have been many homemade feasts and occasional takeout treats. We have enjoyed fresh items from our garden and exotic selections from a local farmers market. Most importantly, it is a place where we have shared connections. A place where we operate together before we wander off to our own pursuits and social endeavors. The family meals are a consistent and securely known tradition. They provide structure and balance. We come together on difficult days and joyous ones. Food may be deliciously gourmet, or a kitchen disaster gone wrong but we spend those moments together.
Research bears out the value of what I have personally experienced. According to Anne Fishel of the Family Dinner Project, only 30% of families manage to eat together regularly. Family dinners have been on the decline for decades, which is unfortunate as Fishel indicates that 80% of teenagers say that family dinner time is when they are most likely to talk to their parents. Fishel notes: “Regular family dinners are associated with lower rates of depression, and anxiety, and substance abuse, and eating disorders, and tobacco use, and early teenage pregnancy, and higher rates of resilience and higher self-esteem.” It doesn’t have to be four-star cuisine to reap the many benefits of family dinner time, but the consistency and time pay off exponentially. I hope my children bring this “around the table” experience into their own households, whatever they may be. Connecting, sharing, and talking around the table is not only an impactful tradition but a way to make great family memories for generations to come.
Reference link: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/20/04/harvard-edcast-benefit-family-mealtime
For more information about the Family Dinner Project, visit https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/