Monday, July 10, 2017

Home by Five

When I was 8, we roamed the square mile or so that was our neighborhood the entirety of every long day of summer. Our parents rarely saw us during those days, usually only long enough for us to grab a snack or some Koolaid and head back out. Always, the admonishment from Mom was, "Be sure to be home by five to set the table."

Having all five of us seated around the table as soon as my dad walked in the door from work was an unwritten law. Nothing got in the way. The schedule was sometimes a few minutes either way of 5:30 depending on the Pittsburgh traffic my dad had to juggle or how complicated my mom's menu was, but family dinner was family dinner, a long-standing tradition that provided so much more than physical nourishment.

Many years later, we established the family dinner in our own family. The world was yet to see a 50% divorce rate and most of my kids' friends also had family dinners. But by the time they were in high school, organized sports had bred the Soccer Mom and the family dinner began to fall prey to drive-through fast food lanes and microwave single-serve entrees eaten over a smart phone or tablet.

The first dinner on our new table back in 2013
I recently wrote a post about how we're managing to survive having seven people on our 42-foot sailboat over the summer, three of whom are my grandkids. In it I talked about manners and how important they are when cramming a lot of people into a small space. One reader observed that maybe the increasing size of houses might be contributing to the lack of manners I see every day. While that might be a possibility, I believe that the death of the Family Dinner has contributed to so many of society's ills. We are an increasingly lonely people, struggling to find some place to connect in a wholly connected society. In our effort to chase satisfaction through endless scheduled activity, we have given up the one thing that could offer it. The plain, old-fashioned family dinner.

Dinner was The School of Human Behavior. We talked about our days in school during the school year, or the forts we built in the woods during the summer. We learned manners by being taught to ask politely for something to be passed. We learned to respect each other by listening and not interrupting someone's story. We learned responsibility by participating in the preparation and cleanup. We learned to express gratitude by appreciating my mom's hard work to prepare the meal. We learned to participate in effective conversation. We laughed together, we got angry at each other, we learned to appreciate each other's feelings. We felt connected. Not too bad for an hour a day investment. So whether you live in a 400 square foot boat, an apartment, or a McMansion, try hollering, "Be sure to be home by five!" to your kids as they go out the door. You won't regret it.

5 comments:

drew sayer said...

We eat at the table almost every night. Where else can we gently grill the kids about what they have been up to at school without them even realising?
I think we all the love the fact that during the meal the focus is just on us four and what we have been doing that day. With so many distractions and rushing around the evening meal really feels like a chance to pause and catch your breath.
Cheers

warwick wood said...

Having dinner with family on a dinner table is amazing feel. After a hectic schedule whole family unite at night where there is discussions, sharing, gossips etc. We all love family and plan to spend pleasurable time with them.

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Benjamin Tudor said...

Deb: What an interesting post. I have been pondering the origin of our societal move towards a culture lacking in common servility. This post suggests that simple things such as family discussions around a table has contributed to the lowering of societal norms. That is a very interesting idea. A thoughtful and well written post

Matt Mc. said...

one of the strongest predictors of success in college is how often a family eats dinner together. Seriously.

The Burnhams said...

Yes, yes, BT---we must learn to be "servile...." 'specially now that our new (naked) "emperor" is at the helm of the ship of state...