I found this piece on Slate about the impact of family dinners on parents interesting. A recent study shows that in addition to being a good thing for your kids, having regular family dinners results in greater feelings of personal success as well as workplace satisfaction for Mom and Dad to boot. I'll buy that. We started having regular family dinners about 2 years ago when my kids were 7 and 9. We had tried on numerous random occasions in the past to have dinner together but I found it way too torturous. It is still a battle to get dinner on the table and somewhat torturous to teach manners and the art of dinner conversation to my 9 and 11 year old boys. But it is so worth it! And I do feel personally successful for making it happen! I don't know if I feel greater workplace satisfaction as a result, but that finding does harden my resolve to ask to be excused from attending certain evening events this fall semester so that I can have dinner with my kids.
One of the unexpected benefits of instituting family dinner was that I immediately lost weight -- without really trying. For years, I fed the kids early in the evening, usually some version of our leftovers from earlier in the week. I was hungry. I picked. I ate their leftovers. And then I ate dinner. Big surprise that I gained weight. When we began having dinner together – even though it included some kid-friendly starchy carb-laden foods (mashed potatoes! crescent rolls!) that I might normally deny myself – the weight came off.
The various studies that document the benefits of family dinners for kids suggest that it is not the fact of having a family dinner itself (duh), but rather that quality of the parent-child interaction at the dinner that confers benefits. Our dinner conversations have also evolved in a way that was unexpected. Early on, our son J began asking us to tell stories about our childhoods. I've been amazed at the various memories that I've dredged up to share. Our kids now share stories as well – reconstructed memories of very early childhood as well as more recent experiences. According to an NPR piece referenced in the Slate article, this type of story-telling and the googling it leads to (last night, our topic was Luna moths) are what benefit the kids.
And in addition to any academic advantage this may give them, I love that they will carry these stories with them.