Every evening, after my husband and I come home from work, one of us makes dinner. The kids occupy themselves with toys and games while the other parent catches up on whatever is necessary. "Dinner's in five," the cook of the evening announces to the rest of the family. The kids stop playing and the eldest helps set the table. Everyone sits down to eat. This is one of our only times together, as a family, which is why millennials shouldn't abandon the traditional family dinner. The family dinner is one of the only "old" traditions my family follows and when our lives get busy, we still manage to sit down together and do what we all love best: eat and talk.
My family eats dinner together every night of the week and breakfast together on the weekends. As with most traditions, though, many families are now skipping the family dinner due to schedules or other restrictions. According to a report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, only 59 perfect of families report eating dinner together at least five times a week, which is low when one considers all of the proven benefits of family dinners.
In our fast-paced, social media, technology-obsessed world, savoring and protecting some family traditions is essential for some family structure and unity. And while I'm totally fine with millennials "killing" all sorts of antiquated industries and traditions, I will fight to the death for my dinners with my family. Family dinner have been researched extensively for decades and the research usually produces similar results. Kids who eat dinners with their families tend to do better in school, are less likely to do drugs, and have better eating habits. And while some of this research doesn't take certain external factors into account, like socioeconomic status, for the most part the results stand true for all families. In addition to all of the proven benefits of family dinners, they are important to me for the following reasons:
I come from a very small and very close family. My family members treasure and value and cherish one another. We know that despite any opposing views we may hold, we love each other above all. I come from a school of thought that doesn't understand when family members fight over nothing. We don't understand how brothers and sisters can go years without speaking to each other over misunderstandings. We do understand, however, how important family is. And that understanding is something I want to pass on to my children.
Many parents know that teaching kids through words isn't always effective and that modeling certain behaviors often works better. So, we model how much we value each other by making time for each other at the end of the day.
The phones are put away, the television is turned off, and the magazines are closed during dinner. For family meals to be effective, all members who are physically present at the table should also be emotionally and mentally present, too. There's no point in sitting at the dinner table together if everyone is looking at their phones. So we put away all of our daily distractions and pay attention to one another.
Dinner is really the only time during the day we can sit down as a family and share with each other. It's the time we find out what everyone's days were like and it's a time to decompress.
During dinner, my partner and I gently nudge our elementary school-aged kid to tell us about her day. We talk about her interactions with other kids, about the new things she's learned that day, and anything else on her mind. Our pre-schooler usually chimes in with his own thoughts about his friends at daycare, and all together we enjoy his adorable syntax and innocent view of life.
During our dinner conversations my partner and I select teaching moments and attempt to facilitate a constructive discussion that our children will benefit from. These aren't a daily occurrence, but they often happen frequently enough to make a difference. We talk about empathy, bullying, hard work and grit, friendships, human interactions, and any other important topics that comes up. There's honestly no better time for an organic lesson for the kids than during dinner when everyone is having a conversation. Nothing ever feels forced and the conversation just flows.
In a constantly hectic world full of after-school activities, demanding careers, working parents, and the need for a little bit of a social life, time spent together as a family becomes seldom. Dinner, or any meal together, can give families that chance to actually be together and be present for each other. Meals together allow families to feel that closeness they often lack when they are running from one activity to another.
My family's schedule is the ultimate millennial stereotype. Both my husband and I work full-time. I also have a few side gigs in addition to my full-time job. The kids have three extracurricular activities between them. They also go to school and daycare, which means homework, activities, fundraisers, parades, volunteering, and donations. And we try our best to find time for our friends and families. In other words, we are spread pretty thin, but we still have dinner together every night, and five out of seven are home-cooked.
Say what you will, but even the healthiest restaurant or take-out won't be as healthy as something you can make yourself. Obviously plenty of people cook ridiculously unhealthy food, too, but if healthy is the name of your dinner game, chances are making it yourself is the way to go.
My partner and I always try to have some kind of a vegetable with dinner, even if it's just a simple tomato, cucumber, and lettuce mix. Dinner together is also our chance to teach our children about proper eating habits and making the right choices with food and beverages. Matthew W. Gillman, M.D., the director of the Obesity Prevention Program at the Harvard Medical School, concluded that kids who ate dinner with their families eat "more fruits and vegetables and less fried foods. Their diets also had higher amounts of many key nutrients, like calcium, iron, and fiber."
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