The value of family dinners and giving our children presence

BlogHer Original Post

What if there was one thing you could do to lessen the likelihood that your child would get involved with smoking, drinking or doing drugs; lessen his/her chance of developing obesity; and help him/her do better in school? What if that thing was as simple as having regular family dinners together?

Sept. 22 is Family DayMonday, Sept. 22, marks the 8th annual Family Day - A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children - "a national movement to inform parents that the parental engagement fostered during frequent family dinners is an effective tool to help keep America’s kids substance free."

From 2003 to 2008 research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University has consistently found that "compared to children who have frequent family dinners (five or more per week), children who have infrequent family dinners (less than three per week) are two and a half times likelier to have used marijuana and tobacco and one and a half times likelier to have drunk alcohol."

At Family Guide: Keeping Youth Mentally Healthy and Drug Free, they also believe in the importance of family mealtimes. Jeanie Lerche Davis of WebMD agrees that family dinners are important and lists 10 Benefits of Family Dinners, including "kids are less likely to become overweight or obese" and "school grades will be better," as well as 10 Tips for Organizing Family Dinners.

Pretty impressive for just eating a meal together, right? I think most people would agree that it's not simply the act of eating together, but of engaging in conversation - in talking to your children and listening to them talk to you - that really what makes the difference. Dinner just happens to be that one time of day that busy families might have an opportunity to sit down and spend a few minutes with each other.

Some of CASA's secrets to having successful family dinners include:

  • start the pattern of eating dinner together while children are young
  • turn off the TV and avoid taking phone calls during dinner time
  • encourage kids to get involved in meal planning and preparation
  • discuss what happened during everyone's day
  • keep it positive and make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.

Gina from A Wrestling Addicted Mommy's Blog recalls that growing up, she and her family used to have dinner and talk about their day, but admits now with her own family, this is something they are lacking. She also points out a recent survey from Mom Central that said 98% of the mom’s polled think that children do benefit from eating meals at the table with the families, but only 61% of families actually do this every day.

The blogger at All Rileyed Up also recalls family dinners while she was growing up (complete with grace before meals, grace after meals, and on Sunday, the whole rosary) says, "Family dinners are much harder to pull off these days, now that I’m the one running the family, partly because Husband’s work schedule is erratic and partly because I am a lazy bum. ... For a while, it wasn’t a big deal to me, but now that the kids are getting older, I feel a need to give them something to remember, a time the whole family can count on being together."

I find it fairly easy to have dinner with my family every night, but that's because a) (thankfully) my husband is able to get home from work at a decent hour and b) my children are still young and not involved in after-school programs, sports, nor do they have homework or jobs to go to. I imagine it will prove to get more and more challenging as my kids get older, but I think it is something worth striving for and we will do the best that we can.

Do you have regular family dinners with your child(ren)? If so, will you make an effort to continue that throughout the teenage years? If not, will you make it a priority on Sept. 22 and/or consider trying to do it more often?

October is AP MonthAlong the same lines and in keeping with the spirit of spending family time together, Attachment Parenting International has declared October Attachment Parenting Month, where the theme is "Giving Our Children Presence." Partnering with Attachment Parenting International to celebrate and promote Attachment Parenting Month are AskDrSears.com, Mothering magazine, and Infant Massage USA.

Julie, an API leader who blogs at ChezArtz, explains that the theme "focuses on the benefits of spending quality time with our children, especially in the run up to the very consumer-oriented holiday season. Although all children love toys, it is our presence, not presents, that they truly crave."

Scylla at Law and Motherhood notes some of the ways she tries to keep her family connected like not having a DVD player in her car and bringing her children into the kitchen to help with cooking, but also admits its not always easy to remain present in their lives. She asks her readers, "how you give your presence to your children, when you are too worn out to be present for anyone else?" After all, we as parents all find ourselves in those situations, sometimes on a regular basis.

API Speaks, the blog of Attachment Parenting International, will be holding a blog carnival focusing on "giving our children presence," complete with giveaways, during the month of October.

While I know not everyone agrees with attachment parenting being the best fit for their family, I think we can all agree that giving our children our presence is an invaluable gift and something so important especially in today's world. As October approaches, I will be considering how I might be more present in my children's lives and I encourage you to do the same. It's often the little things - taking a few minutes to read a book, build a blanket fort, go for a walk together, have dinner together while you talk and especially listen - that mean the world to a child.

You can learn more about AP Month, including events that will be taking place around the country, at Attachment Parenting Month.

What will you do to give your child(ren) your presence in October?

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Contributing editor Amy Gates blogs about green living, attachment parenting, activism and photography at Crunchy Domestic Goddess.

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