Motherlode, the NY Times family-oriented blog, has recently been posting a series of articles dealing with the idea of celebrating, not loathing, the family dinner.
I stand behind that 100%.
I don’t care if both parents work full-time, family meals should be a time to de-stress after a long day. In fact, even though my mother was the main provider for our family during my childhood, we still sat around a table and ate together EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. Sure, some nights it was my dad who cooked, throwing together hot dogs and green beans. Other nights we got pizza or Chinese. But most of the time my mom would pop something in the oven after work, and we would all sit in the dining room and talk about our days.
From the blog:
We’re trying to do what families have done for hundreds of years: come together to restore our physical and mental energies at the end of the day over a necessary meal. What makes that hard is not that we’re struggling to make a fine béchamel sauce with a baby on one hip. What makes it hard for all families, albeit in different ways, is that we as a society don’t consider family time a priority, and for some of our citizens we scarcely allow their families any consideration at all.
This is something my husband was talking to me about just last night as we shared our own simple dinner together after the baby had been put down for the evening. As much as having a date night allows us to recharge our batteries and have a much needed moment of relaxation, we must also remember that we need to be content and restful in any situation.
That bears repeating: We have to find the peacefulness in any situation!
That’s exactly what my mother would do when she arrived home from work to find hungry children hounding her for food. She would turn on the little purple radio that sat on the kitchen counter, perhaps light a candle, and preheat the oven. Then she’d get into some comfortable clothes and head back into the kitchen to pop some chicken in the oven, or mix up ground beef and taco seasoning for burritos. Like I said, the meals were usually simple, but they were flavorful and always healthy.
If late work schedules, exercise classes, activities, sports practices and homework make taking an hour and a half to prepare and eat a meal together an unbearable challenge, it’s not time in the kitchen that’s the issue.
And herein lies the problem. It’s not even a matter of cooking for many people – it’s a matter of prioritizing the family. The results of decades worth of debate about this topic are frozen food sections overflowing with quick options, many of them even organic and specializing in different dieting lifestyles. But it still takes time to set the table and gather everyone together to eat it. I’ve seen way too many SUVs and Mini Vans barreling down the road with passengers sitting inside and stuffing their faces out of brown paper bags – the modern day feeding trough. It’s just easier when every hour of your day is scheduled, I guess.
If we would like to physically come together with our family and friends at the end of the day, there’s no end to the things that get in our way. Cooking, ambitious or not, is not what stands between parents and a pleasant evening at home.
Most of the family’s with lives that revolve around a tight schedule of demands from work and extracurricular activities may not view dinner as that big of a deal. But it’s one of the most reoccurring memories I have as a child, and I’d wager it’s the same for most other adults, as well. Catching up on the lives of our family – whether it be children, spouses, siblings, or even friends – is mandatory.
Those evening hours around dinner….are what you get, if you can get them. That’s your time together, whether your meal is simple or elaborate.