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Leave It to Mrs. Cleaver
Mom with a View

Leave It to Mrs. Cleaver

Eating together as a family is not a luxury.


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.

June 10, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) sonja, June 29, 2006 12:00 AM

When I grew up my parents insisted that we ate as a family. This continued through even my teens, the times when i wanted to go out with friends. I never really thought it was important until I had my own child. Than I realized how important it was to spend time as a family. Now our family tries to do this most nights. Even though we are up working on the computer after our daughter goes to bed. We spent quality time together, all of us as a family.

(3) Faustina Beninato, June 14, 2006 12:00 AM

Put down the soccer ball, baseball or whatever & come to dinner already!!

There's something to be said about the family enjoying dinner around the table, unfortunately, it is a rarity today. I get exasperated when I witness my nieces, ages 10 & 8 respectively, running to Soccer practice, Volleyball Tournaments Bowling, & Guitar lessons. Would it be so wrong to drop a few of these activities so everyone can enjoy some family time?

(2) Ora, June 12, 2006 12:00 AM

CASA stats

While I fully agree with this lovely article on the importance of family dinners, I disagree that "the statistics from CASA are hard to argue with." The statistics from CASA are actually very easy to argue with, as the report does nothing to prove causation (as opposed to correlation). So, for example, the study also shows that kids from families who eat together infrequently are more likely to have classmates who do drugs. Does the family life of one child really have such a dramatic effect on the drug use of his or her classmates? Rather, drug use and the frequency of family meals are most likely correlated issues (both stemming from the same root problems), and not in a direct cause-and-effect relationship.

That said, children who enjoy a healthy and loving relationship with their parents are less likely to use drugs or commit crime. This has been proven to be a causational relationship, and holds true across socioeconomic lines. Family dinners, as long as they are not accompanied by tension and arguments, are a great way to ensure that children feel the love and attention that they need.

(1) Anonymous, June 11, 2006 12:00 AM

Perhaps you never picked up on the abject embarrassment of the poor child who was subjected to that line in Pride and Prejudice.

Kids need to feel important to their parents; they need to feel that their words and stories, however boring, are important to their parents. R' Aryeh Levine was famous for managing to go around to all the widows' houses on a certain Yom Tov and making them all feel like he was ready to spend hours talking to them, though he only stayed a few minutes.

Remember, also, that while kids might not LOOK offended or hurt, Broadway stars aren't the only actors.

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