A few years ago a handful of well-regarded studies proclaimed some amazing benefits to children who regularly have dinner with their parents. The benefits ranged from a better diet to better familial relationships to better grades! Parenting is so exhausting, I’m wary of championing news that feeds our perfectionism or our guilt. And yet I like the idea of eating together regularly as a family—even if my own children, at ages 16 and 12, would treat dinner time like speedway re-fueling on their way to something else, something more pressing or fun, like watching “Parks And Rec,” if my wife and I didn’t insist on their company from start to finish.
This is going to sound mighty corny, but when the kids were younger—and still every now and then—we had a lot fun at dinner time with every manner of wacky contests, from Adam Trivia (based on adventures of my 12-year-old son) to What’s Missing (i.e. taking turns closing your eyes as some else removes an item for table, then looking around and guessing what’s missing. It’s harder than you think). For inspiration, I recommend the activity box, Family Time Fun Dinner Games and Activities (pictured here).
This year, however, despite such enticement as Adam Trivia, my daughter, Elena, at age 16, had a get-out-of-dinner-early card that was hard to push back on: All the studying that awaiting her after dinner.
But that was then, and now it’s summer, and for the first summer in many years, Elena is home with us instead of at sleepaway camp. With Adam back at camp—there is only one child to feed and there is every temptation to eat out or order in. Last night I resisted, making this delicious shrimp recipe my wife found in the Times.
How much time did it take Elena to eat and chat for a bit? Not sure. Ten minutes, maybe 15 minutes, but before I knew it, without any prompting from me she was up and gone, sprinkling a quick “thank you for dinner” on her way back to her room and her computer.
I called her back to the table for a clarification, namely that dinner wasn’t over.
And then I thought to myself, this is exactly how I was at her age. My mom wanted to talk about anything that I would be interested in talking about with her, and I wasn’t interested in talking about anything with her. So we’d eat, and we’d part—a system I don’t remember her balking against either.
My wife and I have the idea that this would be a good summer for Elena to more fully share a range of household responsibilities, among them prepping for dinner.
We still need to tell her this!
Eric Messinger is the editor of New York Family. He can be reached at [email protected]