As my children have all reached adulthood, I have been surprised over the last several years by their comments indicating how much they value their memories of family time while growing up. In particular, my three older children have expressed how happy they are that we made Sundays a family day. In fact, each of them has expressed to me that memories of Sundays spent together as a family are some of their fondest memories from their childhood.
What Sunday family day meant was that none of us, adults or children, would plan events on Sunday afternoon and especially Sunday evening. With rare exceptions, this practice resulted in our family being together for the day once we returned from church. While we may not do much together in the afternoon, Sunday dinner and Sunday evening were times for the family to do something together. This could be anything from watching a movie together to playing board games to taking a walk as a family.
My wife and I worked hard to not let outside invitations and opportunities interrupt our commitment to make Sunday a family day. Exceptions were limited to unique events – often related to a holiday – and usually events that involved the whole family. Several times per year, but only for a particularly special situation for us or one of the children, we would allow a family member to participate in an outside event on a Sunday.
Along with the Sunday family day, our commitment to build family life had two other strong components. The first of these was limiting the number of activities our children could be involved in at any point in time. The second was a strong effort to eat dinner together as a family as many nights as possible.
The decision to limit the number of activities our children were involved in did not come out of any strategic thought process on how to improve our family life. In fact, it came out of a need to get control of our lives when our children were in grade school. Without thinking, one year we suddenly found ourselves with three children who had multiple simultaneous activities. We spent most of our time in the late afternoons, evenings, and Saturdays driving parts of the family from one event to another. Out of desperation, we decided to limit how many extracurricular commitments each child could participate in at any point in time.
Making this decision gave life to the priority we had placed on making dinner time a family event as often as possible. Due to schedules, we probably were only able to eat together as a family about 4-5 nights per week. However, this was far better than many of our friends who seldom ate as a family because of all the sports and other commitments their children were involved in.
Intuitively, and based on my own experiences growing up, I have always felt that family time and family dinners are very important to creating a positive and supportive family life for children. Through the years, I have often observed the visible stress level, both in parents and children of many families we have known, who have, either intentionally or by default, decided that being a good parent means having their child involved in so many activities that they seldom spend any time at home with their family. For these families, life seems to become an unending track meet where parents become taxi drivers and children equate success with being busy with outside activities every waking moment.
Awhile back, I was encouraged when I happened upon an article that confirmed what my children have told me and what I believe. The article, based on research, reported that quality family time – and especially eating dinner as a family at least four times per week – has a strong positive influence on the success of children in school and also later in life.
The research data cited suggests that children whose families eat together at least four times weekly have lower rates of obesity, substance abuse, and enjoy more success in school. Dr. Joseph Kahn, writing in Ladue News, said, “Families who eat together talk together. Children learn new words, learn how to carry on conversation with adults, and have a chance to be an active participant in the family. Sharing the news of the day makes them feel valued.”
Dr. Kahn’s article went on to point out that a report from the Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse documents that teens who have less than three family meals weekly are 3.5 times likely to abuse drugs, 2.5 times more likely to smoke tobacco, and 1.5 times more likely to drink alcohol as a teenager. Children who eat with their families also deal with fewer eating disorders and are less likely to be depressed.
If your children are still young, I strongly urge you to consider implementing a family day and placing a priority on family dinners. Even if your children are teenagers, a focus on getting together for family dinner and family time several times each week can have a huge impact on your children’s happiness and success.
If your children are adults, I encourage you to also try to have family dinners. Do it once a week, once a month, or as frequently as you can. You’ll find having dinner with your adult children on a regular basis one of the richest experiences of your life.