Building relationships - Families who eat together stay together

Very many of us will know, or have learnt from experience, that when things are really difficult, when our options are very limited, that turning to our family for support is often the best and only realistic option.

The converse is equally true — who do we turn to but our family to celebrate our greatest joys?

That may not, of course, always be the case for everyone. Some of us may, for whatever reason, decide to live our lives well outside the family corral.

Equally, the definition of family, the unit that society is built on after all, is changing almost yearly.

The traditional characterisation centred, for centuries, on a married mother and father working together to rear their children. This is still the dominant arrangement but today it is augmented by a wonderful rainbow of successful and secure partnerships, each working honestly to fulfil the emotional and material needs of all of those involved.

Building this solidarity, this trust and lifelong reliability — love by another name — is probably taken far too much for granted. Changing social, work, unemployment or living arrangements, emigration and economic difficulties challenge it too. So too do the barriers to communication created, ironically and unintentionally, by so many digital communications and entertainment devices.

As our aspirations, usually material, change our willingness to devote precious time to a project we sometimes imagine natural and self-sustaining may diminish, it may be carelessly forgotten. This reluctance, this skewed selfishness, is defined by that bizarre and completely inhuman phrase — “spending quality time with my family”.

There are few causes as thankless or as ridiculed as those that celebrate values recognised and lived by our grandparents but it would be foolish to believe that something like the passage of time might undermine essential truths.

Consider for a moment the embarrassed silences that have followed some of Katie Taylor’s declarations of God’s role in her wonderful Olympic success.

The back-to-basics campaign by John Major’s Tories, as enthusiastic a band of philanderers and topers as ever wore hand-tooled shoe leather, may have been the comedic high point of those campaigns but that should not mean we throw the pink-cheeked baby out with the bath water.

Today we report on research that suggests that the very positive role of the family meal plays in developing character and relationships, not to mention social skills, has been greatly underestimated.

It may be stating the obvious, to those with a conservative bent at least, that the study by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, found that children who dined with their family ate more fruit, vegetables, fibre, calcium-rich foods and vitamins, and less junk food. The habit of a healthy diet was formed and one preventative measure against obesity had been established.

The study, again stating the obvious, recorded that teenagers who regularly ate with their family were less depressed than other teenagers.

In the great, changing mosaic of life these may be small, seemingly inconsequential things but their benefits cannot be ignored. These are very challenging times for a great number of families and parents and there are few instances where doing the right thing can be so joyful. Dinner, for everyone, at six then.


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