Thanksgiving is a time for food and for family. If this great holiday tradition did nothing else than bring relatives together around the dinner table, it would still accomplish a lot and be worth the effort. Yet we should ask ourselves if Thanksgiving is an extension, or an exception, to what goes on at dinnertime in our own homes each evening. Is family meal time important to us, or do we let it get crowded out by social activities, children’s sports, and the hectic work schedules of mom and dad?
This is an important question – one of the most important we can ask about our role as father in our family. Research has shown that family meal time, when parents and children sit on a regular basis around the dinner table, is key to the success of marriages and the well-being of children. According to some experts, it is the Number 1 predictor of whether your children will succeed or fail in life. Children who eat most of their evening meals around the table with their parents are more likely to graduate from high school on time. They are less likely to run afoul of the law and exhibit antisocial behavior. They delay first sexual encounter by years over those who don’t have a regular family dinner, and girls are far less likely to become pregnant as teens. In short, as a father, you should place a high priority on making it home for dinner, for the sake of your wife and kids.
Of course, the pace of modern life is set against you. There are pressures at work, long commutes, traffic jams and late trains, as well as the fact that your wife may work and be unable to prepare dinner each evening. As for your children, they have TV and text messaging, social events, sports, homework, and a host of friends who never sit down with their parents for dinner. If you insist that your teens be home for dinner, you will certainly hear that "none of my friends has to be home." But kids don’t always know what is good for them. You must insist on making family dinners a sacred tradition, and set an example for getting home as "the dinner bell rings."
Yes, there will be exceptions, but they should be recognized and treated as just that – extraordinary circumstances that must not become a habit.
There are great benefits to family meal time besides keeping your kids out of jail or your daughter from the maternity ward. As you sit around the table, you will actually get to know one another. Mom and dad get to share events of the day and the children learn what goes on in adult lives – with all the thought and effort that go into each day. Your children will be able to talk about school. You can hear about their friends, and give your opinions and guidance on any troubles in their lives, such as bad marks, bullies, fears of any kind (it’s amazing the unfounded fears children can develop) and personality conflicts. Kids can learn to share, wait their turn, listen to one another, and pray. Yes, each child can take a turn saying grace before meals.
Your family will develop an internal unity and loyalty that will be hard to shake as the children move into the world.
Sound too idyllic? More like the starched shirt and high heels of 1950s sitcoms than the modern family on the go? If your family is like mine, dad is often tired and not ready yet to talk at dinner, mom is too busy rushing food to the table to even sit down till near the end, and the kids are teasing one another or saying how one does not like peas and the other is too stuffed to finish his rice (while asking what’s for dessert).
But the effort of the family dinner is worth it, day after day after day. We do manage to speak and listen, and sometimes we are even polite and considerate of each other. We learn to live with and put up with one another, and there usually are at least one or two loud laughs per meal. In addition, something warm and indefinable happens that feels a lot like love.
There are few more positive things you can do this Thanksgiving than to extend the tradition of eating together into your daily family life.