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Rule 10: Eat Meals Together

Aug 9, 2008
Jen Berkley is the proud mother of her terrific son, Matt, who is proud of keeping his Mom on her toes 24/7.

As my son enters his teen years, I hear warnings from well-meaning friends about how he'll be "checking out" and ceasing to communicate very soon. I know that there is one staple of our home life that I'm committed to in hopes that it keeps communications open--our family mealtime.

As a single parent, it takes a bit more effort to make a "family mealtime" happen since there are just two of us. It would be so easy to sit in front of the TV and zone out while we eat, but my son and I really enjoy our dinnertime. This is an opportunity to share the happenings of the day, debate about music, laugh at the latest celebrity gossip, plan future vacations, etc.

I grew up with this as a family ritual...as did most of my friends. "Back in the good old days" families didn't have as many different activities to pull them apart in the evening: extracurricular sports, tutoring, piano lessons, MySpace, hundreds of cable channels, fast food, text messaging, online poker, and on and on. Life was so much simpler back then (I can't believe I just wrote that!). Today, families and family time are still important. But back then there were certain times of the evening that everyone just knew not to call another household or set their kids loose in the neighborhood.

Those same boundaries just don't exist anymore. I definitely feel as if I'm fighting the tide at times, but so far I'm winning. Even when my "man child" is in the middle of football season and doesn't get home until after 9 p.m. for dinner, I'll wait and serve a full meal to my hungry athlete. This is all instinct for me...it feels right...I enjoy this time with my son. It seems like the right thing to do. But I discovered that there is research that bears this out:

A study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA)* found that kids who eat with their families less than three times per week are much less likely to think their parents are proud of them and are more than twice as likely as more frequent family diners to say there is a great deal of tension in their family. Kids who eat most often with their parents are 40 percent more likely to get As and Bs in school than kids who have three or fewer family dinners per week. Children who don't eat dinner with their families are 61percent more likely to suffer from depression, and/or use alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs.

And for those of you with older kids, don't assume that they aren't interested in sharing the family mealtime. In the CASA study, the majority of teens who ate three or fewer meals with their parents wished they did so more often.

Some ideas for how to make family mealtime more interesting:

- Turn off the TV.

- Ask questions like "What was your favorite part of your day?"

- Ask everyone to talk about a book they are reading or a movie they want to see.

- Get everyone's input to plan your next family outing or vacation.

I love this quote from Robin Fox, an anthropologist at Rutgers University: "A meal is about civilizing children. It's about teaching them to be a member of their culture." What a great summary of our jobs as parents...civilizing our children...teaching them to be contributing members of society. The family meal is a great tool and tradition to help battle all of the other factors in our society that make our job so challenging.

Bon appetite!

The complete CASA study can be found at : http://www.casacolumbia.org/absolutenm/templates/PressReleases.aspx?articleid=502&zoneid=65www.casacolumbia.org

As excerpted from "42 Rules (tm) for Working Moms" Super Star Press, 2008
About the Author
Laura Lowell is the executive editor and author of "42 Rules for Working Moms." She has gathered practical advice and information from working moms all over the world to share with others. She lives and works in Silicon Valley with her husband and two girls. http://www.42rules.com/working_moms/index
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