Overwhelmingly, the percentage of people I see in my psychotherapy practice don’t sit down together as a family at dinnertime. Could this be an indicator of family and personal health and well-being? In a word, “yes”.
When parental schedules revolve around their children’s, the result is that every weeknight and most weekends are taken up with a child’s activities. Not only doesn’t the family eat together, they may rarely be together at all. Even without the interference of outside activities, many parents automatically model what they’ve experienced. Children may be on their own while both parents are working. At day’s end, adults may be too mentally and physically fried to put a dinner on the table. Everyone is on their own: a bowl of cereal in front of the computer or the t.v.; a salad consumed standing at the kitchen counter; stopping for a burger on the way home. For whatever reason, parents and children go different ways.
The family is split apart.
Dissatisfaction between partners is often de-escalated by focusing on children, on whose shoulders it falls to “save” the family, become the family’s “good” definition. As mini-adults, success where parents have failed has everything revolving around these children. This is enormous pressure for a child, especially when the family doesn’t know how to cope when a child falls short of expectations.
And so it goes: Children who grow to be self-absorbed and entitled; over-anxious because of innate inabilities that don’t match expectations; parents who don’t spend time together, weakening their relationship and modeling how couplehood looks; spending only “family time” together, thus negating the separate roles of each family member must play.
Perhaps saddest of all, families without knowledge and understanding of who they are in the grand scheme of connection and continuity to their own Family History. As each individual of a family grows, so does the family grow. Family is a separate entity as much as it’s an entity made up of its parts. It’s where we learn who we are and find comfort when that’s hard to figure out. Where we can heal and repair. And where we can learn healthy ways of being “part of”.
Metaphorically and really, health begins here, at the family’s table at dinnertime.