Few things are as memorable as our wonderful Sunday family dinners when we were growing up. We spent almost every Sunday, after church, with our relatives from Sanger. These were on my Mom’s side, her Mom (our Grandmother), her younger brother’s, and older sister’s families, who lived next door to each other. They visited us, or we visited them, EVERY Sunday, for family time, great meals, an afternoon of playing the seasonal sport.
“The family that eats together thrives together,” says Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, a registered psychologist and parenting expert. “Mealtime has historically been a time of family togetherness. Plus, if you’re getting multiple generations together, then there is tapestry of diversity in terms of ages and interests and that is just so good for kids.”
I believe this. In fact, the best example I can give is my Aunt and recently deceased Uncle in Long Beach. Through the years, every Sunday evening was family meal time. It did not matter if their grown children and their families were off skiing or boating outside of the LA basin. And it did not matter if the grandkids were “away” at college. They would come every Sunday, without fail. My Aunt would spend most of the day on Sunday cooking! It was a joy to see, and we were often included.
My cousins down on the family farm in Kingsburg also have a Sunday family ritual. They visit my Aunt, who resides in a memory care facility in Fresno. They bring both grandkids, and even the family dog. And they share a meal, though not home cooked like my Aunt in Long Beach. But they spend several hours together, despite the distance, both in miles and the cruel memory loss of my Aunt.
Having three grandparents around was also a valuable lesson, though we may not have realized it at the time. They were very old fashioned, but were always there, across the street, to help us. We would get a dollar for every “A” at report card time. They would go to all of our school sports and music events. But mostly, they were there for emotional support, and a place of refuge, if we had to “escape” our home for a short time. Particularly when my Mom made liver!
When I hear of family issues with today’s millennials, and the lack of support structure in their lives. I look back to these wonderful memories. We never had an opportunity for trouble, because we wanted to be with our families. My paternal grandparents lived across the street for most of our lives. They were not only our safety net, but they provided meals and an opportunity to earn money from chores around the farm. It was special!
Anne Fishel, Ph.D., a family therapist and co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, a non-profit initiative that encourages families to connect over mealtime, tells me that there are numerous benefits of families eating together. “The benefits range from the cognitive ones (young kids having bigger vocabularies and older kids doing better in school) to the physical ones (better cardiovascular health, lower obesity rates and eating more vegetables and fruits) to psychological ones (lower rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse and fewer behavioral problems in school).”
Fishel says that what’s for dinner doesn’t matter — it’s the communal environment that you create that makes all the difference.
Yes, this is part of what is missing in our daily lives now. It was a wonderful time. Simple, easy, and so meaningful. There are no rules, just keep it going!
How can we restore these traditions today? I would start with a simple idea: “Join us for dinner tonight.” You might be surprised at the answer.
PS: Have everyone put their phones and smart devices away too!!!