In this fast paced life where no one seems to have an extra second, finding the time to sit down at the table and share a meal with family and friends may sound like an impossibility, or at the very least, a quaint luxury. But not doing this may contribute to any number of adolescent ills such as smoking, drug use, and depression. It does take commitment, time, and energy. It would be wrong to say it didn’t. However, the rewards are too well documented – kids do better in school, delay the onset of sex, and eat healthier – NOT to commit to spending your time and energy in this pursuit.
As a teacher for 25 years, I know that time together as a family around the table is good for kids, and recent research has borne this out. It’s this time that anchors families. It’s not the big holiday feasts once or twice a year, but the regular, reliable, shared meals that count. Shared meals send the message that citizenship in a family entails certain standards beyond individual whims. The power of this habit may not materialize immediately, but there will be a time when the family lingers at the table engrossed in a story, or listening to each other’s point of view around the safety-net of the family table where no one is wrong, or guilty, or shy, that you get a glint of the power of this ritual. This is where children learn what it means to be a “Jones” or “Smith” – to be a part of a group and a part of a history shared through time spent together at the table. Rutgers anthropologist, Robin Fox, teaches about the mysterious ways that meals, shared together, around the family table, engrave a soul: “A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.”
I’m fortunate to have the table I grew up with as a child in my home now, as an adult. The voices of my grandparents sharing their stories and the presence of my mother presiding over dinner are a part of this table, though they are no longer physically at the table. If I look closely at the grain of the wood, I can also make out the impressions of school work and term papers hand written on it by my brothers and sister and me, which adds to this sense of history- my history- that the table embodies, and that I’m still adding to.
The table. It’s about community, conversation, and connecting with one another. This is where life events are toasted, where holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries are celebrated, and where family and friends can gather and share in the most primal and nurturing of rituals: the meal.
So, pull your chair up to the table!