I am sure you have noticed that while eating dinner, we come together, share our experiences and build new understanding
Mealtime is a special time for a family. No, it’s not just for having breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is more to it than just a ritual of satisfying your hunger. If I ask, ‘When do you relax the most?’, I wonder how many will respond with, ‘For relaxing there is nothing more satisfying than the whole family sitting together for our meal’. I remember my house was full of young people. Dinner was something very special, involving a lot of laughter and light banter. They even joked that if they did not laugh during dinner, the neighbors might suspect something was wrong with our family. So, you see, everyone looked forward to and enjoyed nighttime meal in our family.
Mealtime is gaining in importance in the fast-paced modern life that we are gradually adopting. The kitchen and dining area once tucked away out of sight has moved closer to the living room and almost every urban house has a dining table. I am sure you have noticed that while eating dinner, we come together, share experiences and create new understanding. Dinnertime is often accompanied by festivity, joviality, cordiality and friendliness. While eating we also talk about rituals and traditions, create memories, tell stories and celebrate important moments of everyday life. After all, as the Japanese remind us, by eating together we bond and forge friendships.
When we think about the importance of meals with family or friends, we also respect and acknowledge the love and care of the people preparing food for us. We are grateful to them for forgetting their discomfiture for the sake of our happiness and health. We teach our children to be thankful and grateful for the effort put in by the person cooking dinner.
We can see happiness/satisfaction glow in a person’s face by a simple appreciation like ‘great food’ or ‘very tasty dinner’. At the same time we also teach children to appreciate and not take things for granted. Mealtime is important for everyone, whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Morning meal during the weekdays is a time when the whole family makes an effort to be together despite being in a hurry to get to their work/school. I am sure you can easily visualize the commotion, yelling instructions, reminders, promises made and goodbyes said. Yes, it is chaotic. But dinnertime is a routine, calm and relaxing, full of fun, light banter, and so many other things. The meal prepared might not be extraordinary, but the environment you create is something special to hold on to and to look forward to every night. There is always something special about setting time aside for the family. It is therapeutic: an excuse to talk, to reflect on the day and on recent events. It is a time when everyone exercises their democratic right to express themselves, with children becoming excited and animated while relating their activities during the day. These relax and reenergize a person.
Though the conversations during mealtime are not very serious, they often lead to some problem being solved, tension relieved and troubles within the family being settled. It is also the time to make plans or even share information regarding extended family affairs and of course express political opinions. Eating together is a small act, but has a big impact on each member of the family. Research has shown that family dinners build relationships and help children do well in school.
Though dinnertime is short, yet it is the happiest part of the day. I can see some parents saying, ‘But my children do not want to eat home-cooked food’. Talk to them. Find out what they would like to eat and plan dinner with them. So far I know, teenagers want to spend time with their family, to feel wanted and to be recognized as a person. Granted, they also want to be connected with their friends and are constantly on their mobiles, or playing games or watching TV. It is entirely up to the parents to create an environment that is comfortable for them. I know some parents are saying, ‘What can I do they are gradually slipping away from my control?’
It is your attempt to control that pushes your child away from you. Start treating them as grownups. Be patient and ask what they would like to eat for dinner that you can cook and have them help you prepare their favorite food. Now I am not making things up; these actually work. Sometimes just the opportunity to decide on something makes a whole lot of difference to a young adult. They too like to be in control of things. If you let them decide the menu, don’t criticize their decision; rather accept it with a promise that they will help you prepare it.
Their response is bound to be, ‘I don’t know how’. Assure them that they will not be alone; you will be there with them. This will be a step to build that special bond with your child. If you really do not agree with their choice, suggest alternatives, be prepared to compromise, but do not impose. Sometimes they might like to invite their friends to dinner. Go ahead and welcome their friends. That will bring your child a step closer to the family. After all hospitality is also a gesture of peace with a message, ‘I trust you to come home, eat the food I prepare, and take up my time’.
Sharing family meals will allow everyone, especially your child, to feel valued and appreciated—another core need for teenagers that you can easily provide at home. Keep in mind that mealtime is also a time when you eat better, not just from a nutritional perspective, but from a psychological one as well. According to research children who eat dinner regularly with the family have less trouble with drugs and alcohol, eat healthier and show better academic performance. Their bond with their parents is also strong. Try and make eating dinner a joy and never let your children think they are being forced into a health-minded ritual. Rather make it exciting and something to look forward to each day.
Finally, consider the dinner table as a unifier. Consider sharing a meal as an excuse to catch up and talk. After all dinner is one of the few times where people are happy to put aside their work and take time out of their day. Research suggests eating dinner as a family reduces children’s tendency for obesity, depression and eating disorders. Yes, eating is a necessity, but eating together with your family is an intelligent art. I know some of you are saying, ‘But I don’t have the time!’ Relax, I have learned that if we consider it important, are motivated, and willing, we can make time for anything. Granted, you might be hard pressed sometimes, but nothing is impossible. Consider it a date with your family, a cadenced time of gathering to punctuate the day. Now that is not as difficult. You will give it a try, right parents?
The author is an educationist and author of several children’s books