Saturday, September 20

The "Tyranny" of Family Dinners

I occasionally wonder if Slate writers are genuinely clueless as to how to the world actually works, or if they are just exceptionally good at intentionally twisting bits of reality into presentations that allow them to further politically correct ideas - however ludicrous or unreasonable.

Let's set aside, for the moment, the uncompromising (if apparently inconvenient) reality that research consistently demonstrates that consistently sitting down to a meal with your family in your home has powerful and positive impacts on family relationships and the likelihood that children will be successful in school and avoid drug use/criminal behavior. Instead, let's consider what the author thinks to be the primary arguments against this long-standing tradition:

  • Inability to afford fresh produce or kitchen essentials such as pots and pans 
  • Whiny, un-supportive husbands
  • Ungrateful children 
  • Too-busy wives

Am I the only one to think that none of these problems are actually the result of the "tyrranical" tradition of making and serving of homemade meals, and everything to do with unhealthy lifestyle decisions?

The inability to afford fresh produce is clearly a “straw man” argument - a tremendous variety of quick, easy, and inexpensive family dinners can be made without having any fresh produce on hand. 
Considering what you can do with a single electric hot pot, sauce pan, or tea kettle – any of which you can get from a thrift store for under $3 pretty much any day of the week - I don't find the lack of kitchen essentials to hold water, either. 

If you married a man who whines, disrespects you in front of your children, and with whom you’re at odds about family and lifestyle priorities, you have much bigger issues than dinner.  Family dinners may clearly shine a light on those issues, but they aren't the source. Cancelling family dinner so you can continue to ignore those issues only makes everything worse.

As far as kids being unappreciative or difficult, not to sound unsympathetic, but it’s called parenting. Children do not come as perfect little angels – they have to be raised and trained up. It’s why they have parents, and why being a homemaker was considered a full time profession for nearly the entirety of history. Taking the raw material that is a child and raising them to be a responsible, courteous, and wise human being is a lot of work. It’s work that happens in the mundane, every day moments over the better part of two decades. (Though most parents I know would say that you don’t stop parenting when your kid turns 18… the logistics just look a little different.) 

Before you argue that I am a militantly anachronistic and oppressive traditionalist, let me point out that many of best friends and I were all raised in households in which our mothers worked full time. 
An objective review shows that they were no less busy than modern women. They had real, demanding jobs and still somehow managed to get meals on the table every night so that we could eat as a family. We learned to eat what we were served (politely, I might add), or to go without (equally politely). Our fathers, whether directly involved in the preparation of dinner of not, modeled and enforced appreciation and respect. None of our mothers had breakdowns over this practice, and we all grew up to be courteous, well-adjusted adults who think it’s perfectly normal to continue those healthy traditions ourselves. 

I fully respect how hard the fight to protect our families, our homes, and our sanity is in this day and age. It can be incredibly challenging to balance the need for a second income against the home-based demands of maintaining a strong marriage, being a parent, and healthy living choices. It's a battle that must be fought on multiple fronts every day, and it can be exhausting.

But let’s not pretend that sitting down together and having a meal as a family is part of the problem when it is, in fact, part of the solution. You cannot face down and overcome your challenges if you don't first name them for what they are. Vanquishing straw men is a waste of time and energy, and only allows the real enemies - poor decisions, denial of reality, and self-pity - to continue ravaging our lives behind closed doors.

So throw a pot of spaghetti on the stove, dump a jar of sauce into a pan, and toss some plates on the table. Fight back against politically correct propaganda by choosing to engage in simple act of a shared meal. History and science give us iron-clad evidence of the power of this single choice, available for us to make anew every day. You don't have to sacrifice your health or your relationships to the chaos of the world and its broken perspectives. 

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