Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Family Dinner Table

A few years back, someone I admired and respected said something to my children about family dinners, such that eating together around the table as a family was assumed to be the norm for us. I cringed and blushed inside, not having the courage to shoot down this ideal that I hadn't lived up to. The truth is that I almost never have family dinners sitting around the table...not because I'm lazy, but because I don't like family dinners.

I realize that our society has elevated the family dinner to an essential ritual, that it's considered a hallmark of a healthy and respectable family. Politicians talk about family meals....sitting around the table together is the wholesome and traditional standard. One never hears about a happy family eating in a less formal manner. Happy families sit down and chat happily while sharing their mealtime, period.

Except that family dinners aren't always happy. For some of us, there are literally years of bad memories involving dinnertime and tables. There are parents slapping their children upside the head from across that table, making cutting remarks about the amount of food eaten, playing control games with that nice dinner, or forcing their kids to eat stuff that makes them gag. There are fights and scenes and general nastiness, cold silence instead of the happy small talk, none of it anything anyone would ever want to reenact, all of it so aversive that the slightest bit of tension at someone else's family dinner mkae my anxiety levels soar, makes my stomach sink with dread and foreboding. No, I don't have sit down family meals. And I don't buy that the sort of family meals that haunt my memory are healthier than the much more free form meals that we have. Convention be damned....there is more than one way of doing things, including eating together.

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