Saturday, March 13, 2010

Response #2 - Miriam Weinstein's book - "The Surprising Power of Family Meals"

Chapters 3 & 4:
Being strong while eating conotates an image for me as being able to eat the nasty fish (ceviche) my father brought home from Mexico. I could not leave the table until I ate what was on my plate. The threat of having more put on my plate proved that I had strength in downing a horrid food, and my resiliency in overcoming this objectionable task!

In the third chapter, Weinstein explores a number of areas in which eating dinner can make you strong. She begins with the story and eventual research of Marshall Duke, a clinical psychologist at Emory University. His studies were centered on the resiliency of family members that were dealt with difficult circumstances growing up. They found that families, who talked about the failures and successes of family members, both present and dead, helped model behaviors that despite setbacks “we” would overcome. Researchers discovered that the family lore was discussed at the “family dinner table.”

Additionally, Weinstein captures the essence of other research dealing with alcoholic families and families that had children with food eating-disorders and substance abuse issues. How does having dinner together make us strong in any of these situations? Dinnertime for the alcoholic family is controlled by the bottle – yet there is a family meal together. Strength and resiliency occurred more often as family members either tried to find balance or made vows to break the cycle. Whereas children with food eating-disorders or substance abuse repeatedly showed little structured meal time together. When families made the effort to provide consistent family meals, there was significant change in the health of their children.

Many parents today are too busy, getting caught up with “things,” that they forget about the those that depend on them. A meal, as simple as pancakes, says that I care about you. Statistical evidence shows that children’s mental well-being and performance in life are clearly linked to family meals. Children are better equipped to handle life’s challenges.

I love the South African quote that Weinstein uses, “When you have a lot to do, start with a meal.” When you consider the implications of beginning a task of varying importance – what better way to begin than to share a meal with family to discuss the assignment?

The family meal not only serves to strengthen families—it is a teaching tool for younger generations. As in the study of Mexican children’s gradual acceptance of hot pepper flavors, parents must introduce children to the many different cultures within their own community.

When do we eat? Where do we eat? Do we invite others to join us for dinner? How adventuresome do we make our meals? How insistent will we be in enforcing manners? Do we teach manners? Will outsourcing our meals provide more time with the family and not break the bank? Does taking time to prepare a meal for the family have any value?

Resoundingly, YES! For someone, particularly mothers, the task of teaching and providing for your family can be overwhelming. For working mothers, the demands are even greater. Contemplating my own life and the statistical data on working mothers, I am so grateful that I was able to be home with and for my children.

Time spent in introducing foods to my family and teaching manners were valuable. One aspect of a parent’s pay dirt is when company joins you for dinner and your children behave and are pleasant. Another payoff is when you enter an “outsourcing” establishment, and your family is well mannered. Cultural capital is about investing in my children so that they are worth more.

My family is a treasure. They have made my life rich. My desire is that we to do not have any empty chairs at our table. With everyone there, therein lies our strength.

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