Eating dinner as a family was on its way to becoming a cultural dinosaur, thanks in no small part to all those images of Leave it to Beaver with June Cleaver in her frilly apron and pearls.
That is -- until a recent study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. They found that the more often a family eats dinner together, the less likely the kids are to get involved with alcohol and drug abuse.
Although they didn't detail appropriate dinnertime behavior, one assumes that while it is not necessary that the dinner be homemade, there would have to be some communication among family members in order for this to be an effective strategy. That would probably entail turning off the TV (not just turning down the sound), turning off cell phones (and Blackberries and Treos) and maybe (although this may be too revolutionary) not answering the regular phone -- if you still have one.
What's stunning is that for many, this is a radical idea. In escaping the stultifying fifties, we've run so fast and hard that we didn't stop to see if there was anything worth preserving. We may not want to see our own face in the dishes, but it might be nice to see those of our other family members!
Dinner time is a good opportunity to catch up on everyone's lives, to sift through community news, to discuss the interesting issues of the day. If the topic becomes too esoteric, we like to borrow a line from the father in the biography Cheaper by the Dozen, "That is not of general interest." Or if one child is particularly long-winded, we like to borrow from Pride and Prejudice, "You have delighted us long enough."
But in general, it's a free-for-all with topics up for grabs and usually at least two children who get caught up in the discussion (and another two who talk about something else just to make trouble!).
While we rarely have take out (due to budgetary considerations and not the ghost of June Cleaver), I refuse to be a short-order cook. There is one dinner made -- and a last resort option of cereal and milk. This allows me to sit at the table and participate in the conversation -- or not.
Sometimes due to job considerations or other scheduling complications, it is not possible for families to eat together. Some times there's no choice. And sometimes it's a matter of priorities. Which will benefit our child more: another after-school activity or a relaxed dinner with his family?
The statistics from CASA are hard to argue with. You may not want to get dressed up with pearls for dinner and greet your husband and kids with that big smile (why not give it a shot?), but maybe June Cleaver was really onto something important.