One of my great memories of growing up is the family meal and when I reached my teens, when all of us were gathered together again, a meal could last for hours as we told stories, discussed and debated. I’m a major proponent of the need for the family to gather at the table several times each week. If anything depresses me, it’s the loss of that shared experience. But activities, sports and simple growing up are making me rethink some things.
The value of the family meal rests in the ability to keep tabs on what’s going on in one another’s lives. As the kids move into the daily world with school, they need the opportunity to share and it’s sometimes through simple storytelling that other indicators and issues are revealed. But I’ve had to realize that Eldest is growing up and spending more time at sport practices and activities and she needs to eat something before her mother is home from work; the meal then becomes something rushed and eaten standing up as Youngest plays outside with a friend or watches television. After she leaves, the routine has fallen apart and we’ve all found ourselves eating away from the table. I fear that the unspoken message being sent to the younger siblings is that the family traditions don’t carry over for them, that Eldest has more inherent value than them and that we aren’t a family unit without Eldest’s presence.
As I’ve considered the situation, I recalled a comment that my father once made to my mother as my older sister prepared to leave for college. Actually, it gives us the opportunity to spend more time concentrating on him. Bearing that in mind, I think that several things will come into place.
- Even in the rush of the moment, there will no longer be any meals eaten while standing up or in front of the television.
- No child of any age will eat alone at a table but will be joined by either me or my wife.
- The table will be cleared of the crap and set appropriately so that none of the kids might think that they are an afterthought.
We have had some memorable meals of our own and I think that we will again. But the tradition has to hold as the kids come and go.