Family Dinner and the 4th of July

The Declaration of Independence opens with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” What our founding fathers meant was that there are certain things we do not need to back up with research, prove, or debate as a citizen of this country.

As a parent, there are similar truths. “Talk to your kids” is one of them. “Spend time with your kids” is another. So is, “Show them you care.”

The Sunday Review section of the July 1 New York Times, my favorite few pages of newspaper all week, included an editorial called “Is the Family Dinner Overrated?” by Ann Meier and Kelly Musick. I was tremendously disappointed. According to the opinion piece, a recent study found that family dinner is not as important to the health and happiness and future success of our children as originally thought. You actually have to talk to your children during those dinners.

First, I realized why higher education is so expensive. Universities are paying their top professors and researchers the big bucks because they spend months, if not years, trying to debunk concepts like eating dinner with your kids. Why?

Second, I was disappointed that anyone, especially experts in the field, felt they had to study family dinners and point out that the dinner isn’t the important thing. It’s the talk around the table. Isn’t it obvious that the reason psychologists have been pushing family dinners is specifically because it provides an opportunity to spend time with your kids, talk to them, learn about them, and show them you care? It’s certainly not the chicken nuggets or pasta with butter.

I remember hearing a story about dinner at the house of my grandfather’s when he was a young boy. He had one younger brother and a number of sisters, but only the boys were allowed to talk at mealtime. The girls could answer a question if their father asked one of them, but other than that, conversation at the dinner table focused on the boys.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Talk to each of your children. Do we really need to conduct a months-long study on that one?

Anyway, with my disappointment raging in both universities that apparently sponsored this research, and the New York Times for highlighting it as an impressive new body of information on parenting, I thought about the last few dinners around our table.

Night One: Our nine year old, who had just completed a week of sailing camp told us about the huge fish that jumped out of the reservoir right near his boat. When he learned that his Dad once took sailing lessons, he named every possible boat that he might have sailed.

Night Two: I groaned often as the boys and their Dad recited, over and over, the lines from a youtube video of a talking dog disappointed that his owner ate all the maple bacon. Then they went into repetitive recitation of the lines to the baby broker e*trade ads.  An hour of giggling around the table.

Night Three: The eight year old’s radical improvement after only three swimming lessons was lauded by all. The story of his epic chase after our runaway dog the night before was recounted with gentle reminders that we would rather lose the dog than the boy. “Please stay close to home, don’t get in a stranger’s car, and can everybody please tell my our address and phone number?”

Night Four: The three boys reminded us once again of the many attributes of their Bey Blades, including their favorites, which ones they wanted next, and plans for a lemonade stand to earn money so they could buy more on ebay, where they pointed out, they are cheaper.

Night Five: An hour of really bad Knock Knock jokes, some completely misunderstood because they were told by a four year old. Much laughing.

Night Six: New nicknames for all. Puddin’ Brain was a favorite for the most academic of the three. Then we discussed what to get Mommy for her birthday, without, of course, including Mommy in the conversation. Loud whispering.

Night Seven: An announcement that the boys would read the Declaration of Independence for the 4th of July.

Hopefully, when they are parents, they will already understand the self-evident truths of both our nation and life as a parent… and not need the New York Times to explain them.

Yes, as parents, “we hold these truths to be self-evident.”


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