Reviving the family dinner [sfbayview.com]

 

By Diana Hembree, San Francisco Bay View, June 17, 2019.

Having trouble getting the family together for dinner? You’re not alone.

Research shows that family dinners have declined by 30 percent over the past 20 years. Kids who have experienced childhood trauma are already at higher risk of obesity and unhealthy eating, so this decline is especially troubling.

“Dinner is a time to relax, recharge, laugh, tell stories and catch up on the day’s ups and downs, while developing a sense of who you are as a family,” Anne Fishel, PhD, a family therapist and professor at Harvard Medical School, has explained. “I don’t think people realize how big a punch that hour around the table packs.”

Fishel is a founding member of The Family Dinner Project, a Boston-based nonprofit that offers free online resources to help families revive the magic of the family meal. It’s there to support you whether you’d rather have family dinners, barbeques, breakfasts or just a weekly potluck.

“The benefits don’t come from a well-cooked lasagna; they come from creating a warm atmosphere at the table,” said Fishel. “Even one dinner a week can be hugely positive if the atmosphere is warm and engaging.”

And everyone doesn’t have to be there to make it work. “You could have one parent at the table, or perhaps an aunt or Grandpa,” she added. “You might take a snack break in the evening where parents and kids could come together and talk over hot chocolate. It should just be something that’s predictable and enjoyable.”

[Please click here to read more.]

Add Comment

Comments (4)

Newest · Oldest · Popular

Reading the full article, there appears to be an assumption that a supportive adult is available to buffer the toxic stress.  This AAP reference was cited but missing in the article:  

While some stress in life is normal—and even necessary for development—the type of stress that results when a child experiences ACEs may become toxic when there is “strong, frequent, or prolonged activation of the body’s stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection of a supportive, adult relationship.”4,5 The biological response to this toxic stress can be incredibly destructive and last a lifetime.

In some ways, it almost appears that family dinners are a measure family function. Is there an association between the decline in family dinners being a symptom of over-stressed families?

I appreciate the opportunity to ponder these issues here, on ACEs Connection! 
Karen

I concur with both Jane and Cissy. In abusive homes, family meals are times of high stress. In fact, every moment spent with an abusive parent is re-traumatizing. I still remember my father insisting we eat together and then in his drunken state who start berating us or threatening not to give us food.  During those times my fervent prayer would be 'Dear God, please let me be able to eat in peace.' 

As a parent, I have never insisted on 'Must Do's' for my child. Going with the flow works best. Sometimes even the best of traditions become impositions that a child begins to detest.

Jane Stevens (ACEs Connection staff) posted:

Well, I know people who have fond memories of family dinners promote this is a great way of creating healthy families, but when it's a dysfunctional family, family dinners are usually torture, especially for kids who are verbally, physically, and, yes, sexually abused at the table.

So, I would provide this caveat: If the family is dysfunctional, avoid family dinners until the family is well into getting counseling.

I'm with you on this Jane.

Some of my worst childhood memories are in my kitchen and that means that a lot of my issues are sadly intertwined with food, indulging as well as refusing it because it's so connected to abuse and trauma.

Some of my best memories are of school lunch, oranges and chocolate milk, at school because that was a wonderful environment for me and I was with friends, and happened to be in a school where most of us were getting free lunches so it didn't have the same feel as in schools where that was true for just a few. 

What worries me, and why I don't share advice to parents on the Parenting with ACEs community, is that what works when things are good, great, ideal, "good enough," and what's good, ideal, beneficial when there's trauma and adversity are not the same.

Dealing with actual and present danger, current, as well as symptoms of traumatic stress from past but which can be very in the present, has to be the first thing and the underlying thing. We don't tell people how to hold a fork when someone at the table is choking. In that case, a rescue technique is all that is helpful and no one is focusing on the meal no matter how yummy til the crisis is over.

When I worked in a shelter for homeless families, so many families ate from the floor and the staff judged them. I know because I was interning and interviewed the staff as well as the residents. When I asked about it, one mom said, "This isn't my furniture," meaning the table at the shelter, so eating from the floor meant eating from her own lap and also having choice. However, at the shelter this was considered "bad" parenting and there were not just rules about where to eat but also classes on manners, bedtimes, boundaries, etc., as though those things had anything to do with being homeless. 

Though the staff thought they were sharing and educating, guiding and "modeling," it's not like it was received as helpful or positive — it came across as  judgmental and punitive, or irrelevant, and I always remember that. Now as a parent I get it even more because getting kids on a schedule, when not in their own home, etc. is a challenge (as anyone who has lived in transition in crisis or even on vacation or during a home repair project probably can understand), but parenting while in crisis, while homeless, while in transition — that's A LOT.

In my opinion, food, like advice, needs to be asked for and sought out and can only be swallowed and digested when people are first safe and hungry for that specific dish.

That said, I do have to own that as a single mom, with a teen who goes to a charter school, we eat WAY TOO MANY meals on the run, in the car, late or have a bunch of snacks instead of sitting down. I know that's not the ideal. And I sometimes do think I recoil from the dinner table in order not to "trap" my kid at it the way I felt trapped at the table. 

Cis

Well, I know people who have fond memories of family dinners promote this is a great way of creating healthy families, but when it's a dysfunctional family, family dinners are usually torture, especially for kids who are verbally, physically, and, yes, sexually abused at the table.

So, I would provide this caveat: If the family is dysfunctional, avoid family dinners until the family is well into getting counseling.

Post
×
×
×
×