Friday, March 19, 2010

Response #4 - Miriam Weinstin's book - "The Surprising Power of Family Meals"

Magical moments in a family are forgotten as family dynamics change. The environment of a family meal sometimes becomes a “quaint artifact,” a forgotten ritual when lives are ruptured by divorce or death. Yet, food still is the measure in which rituals will see a rift in family relationships.

Weinstein jumps into her narrative with how real divorce is when someone is missing at the dinner table. The question for those remaining at the table is, “What do we do now?” The suggestion was that families need to reconfigure, and buy a round table, where there is no “head.” I would agree that this is a positive move for families. Change is not always a comforting aspect when families are shattered, but moving forward and finding reassurance together while sharing a family meal is.

Blended families have a unique set of problems. Not only was a family broken apart, but now there are forced relationships to be dealt with. It is a no-win situation when the “step-parent” is introduced. However, the “step” can use family meals as a way to create an image of some family social structure. The rule of never trying to replace a biological parent would give the “steps” an opportunity to establish new rituals without stepping on sensitive feelings, and taking the occasion to involve family members in the food preparation.

If your children have to be without a parent, at what age is it less disruptive? Experts will give you a multitude of responses, all valid. Many years ago, Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was quoted that parents need to be home during the cross-roads of a child’s life. Teenagers especially are vulnerable when there is no parent home during those “cross-roads.” In today’s society many teenagers are raising themselves because parents, whether divorced or not, are allowing their children to choose friends over family. It reminds me of the book, Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, children trying to recreate a ritual, when all they really wanted was a parent to be in charge.

There are many families in the world who do a wonderful job of creating family rituals, but in some communities, such as Wayzata, Minnesota, parents are making a concerted effort to regain balance in their homes.

The largest federally funded study of American teenagers in 2000, found a “strong association between regular family meals” and general academic success and psychological well being of teenagers. Using that as a spring board, community leaders in Wayzata welcomed the organization, Putting Family First in helping them bring awareness to the issues they were facing.

In the community of Wayzata, leaders were recognizing that families were centered on the success of their children – that was what defined them. Many families’ lives were besieged by the “over-loaded schedule,” – a choice!

As a parent, I have experienced the same choices and decisions – do we allow our children to participate in every sport or dance lesson? A parent in Weinstein’s book expressed some of our same sentiments – that our children are not great athletes! They will not be a super star, so why create an illusion of greatness. There are so many other worthwhile activities that will make them a better person without sacrificing family time and meals.

Family dynamics can change without being ruptured and shattered. By putting my family first I am saying, “I care. You are important. I love you.” To me that is magical.


Erin, Danny, & Carson said...

Thank you for sharing this information. I too, agree that there is great power in family meals. Reading the various positive consequences of family meal time reminded me once again that the most simple and basic acts will save our families and society. However, just as in Biblical times, when the people needed only to "Look to God and Live," we allow ourselves to be distracted, and make ourselves too busy to "look." Just as it is appalling to us that people would not look, it is equally appalling that we, as a society, refuse to take advantage of such simple tools to strengthen and build our families.
I grew up in a family where family meal time was something done on holidays and other special occasions. My husband grew up in a family that ate meals together often (albeit at very odd hours.) As a couple, we know that family meal time is important...vital even, and are working to make it a ritual in our home. Reading this information has rededicated me to that goal. Thank you.

RedefinedPossibilities said...

Thanks Erin - now spread the word!