Last week, my entire family sat down to dinner on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights. On Wednesday my wife and I went out for dinner for a date night, just the two of us, after friends had to cancel due to illness.

Since starting a family, dinners together have been a priority.  As they get older, with more after school activities and a natural desire to hang out with friends, family dinners can happen a little less regularly.

There are no phones allowed at the table, the television is not playing in the background. It’s just the five of us, six if you include our dog, who eats at the same time, talking and sharing. Some nights the conversation is more free flowing than others, as was the case last week.

The kids shared stories about what was going on at school, we shared highlights and lowlights from our days. There was laughter and listening.

Later when I was out with just my wife, it was a different form of intimacy. We talked about things that go well beyond exchanging our plans for the day as we are passing each other in the kitchen on the way out the door. We talked about what was going on with our kids, with our work, with the world, and made some plans for the holidays. It was wonderful.

When we don’t prioritize dinner time, when too many days go by without the five of us at the table or too many weeks go by without my wife and I making time for the same, our family dynamic suffers. We can become short and transactional with each other.

There is something grounding about sharing a meal together, even if at any given time we aren’t sharing much else. The benefits of family dinners are far-reaching, ranging from bigger vocabulary for preschoolers to lower rates of drug use and teen pregnancy for older kids to improving self-esteem for both parents and kids alike. The American Health Association found that 91% of parents believe family dinners significantly reduced stress for their families. At the same time fewer than half of American families regularly sit down together. On the last point, there is a significant class divide.

As someone who had no father in the household and whose mother worked nights, family dinners were not that common, perhaps a reason why I value them so much now.

Thanksgiving dinner is just a few days away. It is a day when most families do make it a priority to eat together. Among the things that I will be thankful for, is not just that we have gathered that day to break bread, but that we gather together most days to do the same.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving meal with your family… and that you share many more in the year ahead.

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