To sit together as a family is something that many of us associate with holiday gatherings or our own childhoods, but how many people actually spend family mealtimes together these days?
Let’s be honest, family mealtimes aren’t easy. For parents of young children, the appeal of having a quiet meal alone, while the kids eat in front of the TV can be an alluring draw. But, as with everything in parenting, there are consequences for our actions; no matter how large or small.
Today’s lives are getting busier; parents get to spend less time at home with their children than previous generations. There is also a rising focus on how children are becoming less respectful and harder to control. Could it be an influx of media exposure, causing a rebellious, entitled and precocious generation who don’t feel the need to listen to or respect their parents? Or is there something else taking place?
Dr. Leonard Sax, a child psychologist with almost 30 years experience, believes that it’s the latter which is the case. He is of the opinion that today’s kids are becoming more challenging, and a lot of it has to do with the breakdown of authoritarianism and communication within the family unit. These are the themes, and others, that he explores in his new book; The Collapse of Parenting.
In an interview with Leanne Italie of AP, Dr Sax says that families “are facing a crisis of authority, where the kids are in charge, out of shape emotionally and physically, and suffering because of it.” He suggests that a return to the traditional structure, form and unity of a family is necessary for things to progress in a more positive manner.
One of the things which Sax highlights as being of great importance is the regular sitting down at the table to partake in the family meal:
“Research shows having a family meal at home without distractions is important,” says Dr Sax, “Every day. Not doing that indicates that time spent at home with parents is the least important priority. It doesn’t matter. It can be overlooked and forgotten. By communicating that time at home as a family is our highest priority, you are sending the message that family matters.”
Family meals allow each member an opportunity to sit together and be heard; to talk about their day. It allows them to make plans as a family; to share stories and laugh.
It also allows for more practical elements, such as discussing likes and dislikes associated with food, changing tastes and preferences. All of this builds an interest and awareness of food; showing that not everything has to come from a freezer or a take away. Family mealtimes are so much more than a stuffy tradition; they are a way to keep us all together.
Children grow up so quickly and instead of trying to rush through these moments, looking at them as a chore, we should savour them instead.
Dr Sax goes on to outline three of the most important rules for instilling grounded, positive characteristics in your children:
“The first thing is to teach humility, which is now the most un-American of virtues. When I meet with kids I ask them what they think it is and they literally have no idea. I’ve done that from third grade through 12th grade. The high school kids are more clueless than the third-graders.
They have been indoctrinated in their own awesomeness with no understanding of how this culture of bloated self-esteem leads to resentment. I see it. I see the girl who was told how amazing she was who is now resentful at age 25 because she’s working in a cubicle for a low wage and she’s written two novels and she can’t get an agent.
The second thing is to enjoy the time with your child. Don’t multitask. Get outdoors with your child.
The last thing: Teach the meaning of life. It cannot be just about getting a good job. It’s not just about achievement. It’s about who you are as a human being. You must have an answer.”