For many years, research has been telling us that kids do better when their family has dinner together. Teenagers are less likely to use drugs and alcohol and less likely to have high stress. Kids of all ages do better in school, especially reading.
According to a study at Brigham Young University, family dinners are good for dads too. Working parents who make it a priority to be home for dinner—even if they still work long hours—tend to feel greater personal success, and success in relationships with their spouses and their children. They also have more positive attitudes toward their work. On the other hand, parents who miss dinner at home because of work are more likely to feel gloomy about their professional futures.
Listen to a 7-minute NPR “Morning Edition” report from earlier this year about other research on family dinners.
Not long ago, we heard from a dad who listens to our daily radio program. He thanked us, saying, “You helped get me out of the bedroom.” He continued, “It used to be that I’d come home, get my dinner and go to the bedroom, where we have our big-screen TV. I would eat and watch TV in there, where I could relax. But now, we’re eating together as a family.”
This dad came off the sidelines and got in the game of fatherhood, and that’s a huge step. Dad, you may or may not eat dinner all by yourself while watching TV, but do you rush through family dinners, or are you off in your own world while everyone else is interacting? Do you miss many dinners because of work? Or are you on the sidelines in some other way? Do you retreat to the garage, the computer, or the driving range instead of spending time with your kids? Please take your place at the table, right in the middle of your children’s lives. There’s probably nothing magical about the meat loaf. Good nutrition makes a difference, but more than that, the kids benefit from dinnertime conversations—bouncing ideas off you and each other, and knowing that someone really cares about what they think and how their day went. And as the research confirms, it’s good for you too.
- Look at your weekly schedule and find ways to add at least one more night a week of eating dinner as a family.
- Commit to preparing one family meal each week—even if it’s on the weekend.
- Make it a habit to bring home a new story or joke to tell, a news item to discuss, or a question to ask family members during dinnertime.
- Practice good listening habits during dinnertime: read non-verbal cues; maintain eye contact; make neutral summary statements to show that you’re listening and your child can continue.
- Be flexible! If your newborn’s schedule or your teenager’s schedule means eating at an odd time, try to make it work.
Recommended Resource: Dinner with Dad: How I Found My Way Back to the Family Table by Cameron Stracher