Ken Windebank, a colleague of mine, likes to ask a question of people, and I have begun to do it myself. The question is simple, “What’s one thing you did well as a parent?” The other day, for instance, I was meeting with a very successful financial manager in Southern California. I’ll call him Gary. I asked Gary that question and, after a brief pause, he said, “The best thing we did was to have dinner together as a family every night.”
Eating dinner together?
Gary explained that even back when he was building his business, he’d be sure to get home by about 7:30 p.m. for their meal. Anticipating the fact that dinner would be later than the normal dinner hour, his wife would serve their children a substantial snack about 4:30 p.m. and then gather together for the main meal once Gary arrived. With a laugh he said the kids were thrilled that they got two dinners out of the deal.
The kids also came to see that eating together was a top priority for their Dad. Even if Gary had unfinished work to do at the office, or was juggling a few last minute details, he’d rush home if necessary so as not to interrupt their dinnertime routine. He knew how important being together for the evening meal was in terms of sending the right message to the kids. Being together for dinner at the end of the day was a safe place where they could swap stories from the day’s happenings, share their hearts, hopes, burdens, while feeding the need for being “connected.”
Did Gary’s commitment to the evening meal have any tangible payoffs? I’d say the fruits are there. His kids are all doing well. They’re grown up, married, and have their own children. More importantly, they’re all followers of Jesus, serving Him with their lives. As I listened to Gary, I was reminded of the fact that one of the key things we parents can do to nurture our kids is to have meals together, particularly dinner.
The statistics are overwhelming: families that eat together four-to-five times a week produce kids who are dramatically less likely to be involved in illegal drugs, premarital sex, and other high risk behaviors. I know that sounds bizarre. Obviously, it’s not about the food. But there’s something special happens when children feel connected to each other and their parents, where communication can take place, and the transmission of values can occur in an informal environment.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University conducted a ten-year study entitled, “The Importance of Family Dinners”, bears this out. The focus of their study was on the reduction of tobacco, alcohol abuse, and illegal drug usage. Among their findings, the report concluded: “One factor that does more to reduce teens’ substance abuse risk than almost any other is parental engagement, and one of the simplest and most effective ways for parents to be engaged in teens’ lives is by having frequent family dinners.”
The benefits of eating together are maximized when parents are intentional in bringing up topics for discussion. Sometimes that might be an item pulled from the national headlines, a local current event, or a happening within the family that is worth discussing. And, as I’ve mentioned in prior blogs, one of the things we like to do in our home is to engage the kids in a devotion as part of the meal time.
That said, I’d like to hear from you. Do you make time to bring the family together four-to-five times a week for dinner? If not, what are the obstacles you face? Would you be open to making mealtime a family priority? Regardless of how you answer the dinner question, I’d like to know what’s one thing you have done—or are doing well—as a parent?