A recent New York Times survey found that only 46 percent of American families eat together every night. Some families eat together only on weekends. Some settle for "layered" meals - everyone eating at different times.
Even if families try to eat together, it can be difficult to coordinate jobs, school work and activities.
When I was a child, my family always ate dinner and breakfast together. Also, I walked home for lunch, and sometimes Dad was there then, too.
When we ate together, our parents taught us many things. We learned to use utensils properly. We learned the proper manners. We learned about listening, giving and receiving. We learned about life. I learned what it was like in my older sister's high school before I went there. I learned what the doctor thought of my grandmother's heart. I had input into what flowers got planted next to the porch. I learned to be quiet sometimes and to share at others. We all learned to accept each other and accept the food that was brought to the table. We learned to help with the cleanup.
Sure, it was great to have a home-cooked meal almost every night, but was it the meal that was great, or was it the being together?
As a parent, I used to feel guilty heading for the fast food restaurant at dinnertime because I was too tired, too busy, too hungry or all three. I felt that I was depriving my family of that idyllic scene where June Cleaver, in her apron and dress, serves four courses while she smiles and listens with interest to her family's day.
Eating together doesn't have to mean cooking. Eating together can be done at home, but it can be at a fast-food restaurant, a family restaurant, a pizza parlor or a full-service restaurant. If the only way you can get together tonight is if you go to a fast-food restaurant, then make this your family time. If you have to get together for pizza or not get together at all, then go for that pizza time. It is the time together that counts.
Oh, busboy, here are some guidelines to help make eating out as valuable a family time as eating in:
There can be advantages to getting family time when eating out. There may be more time together to talk and share, as the parent isn't alone in the kitchen while the kids are watching TV waiting and whining for food.
After dinner, there may be more time for Dad to help with the homework, as he doesn't have to do the dishes. There may be fewer distractions such as TV, phone, the mail, the chores that are waiting, neighbors, etc. And the family might argue less in public (it's a thought!).
Remember that family time is valuable no matter where it is.
Restaurant Watch: Note the families enjoying time together at local eateries.
Comments? Write to Anita at firstname.lastname@example.org.