Monday, February 11, 2008

Dining with the Dubovs

So, I heard on the radio the other morning a story that attempted to explain the relationship between the act of a family eating dinner together and the relative strength or functionality of that family.

The essential premise of the story was that some researchers somewhere had concluded that there was a relationship between communal dining and the relative success of the children in that family. In other words, the idea is that the more often a family eats together, the less likely it is that the children will use or abuse alcohol or drugs and the more likely it is that they will go to school and get good grades. Now, the uselessness of comparing good grades to functionality is not worth mentioning here with more than this dismissal, but I since I am interested to know if our having eaten together as a family since our children were tiny is bound to produce any beneficial effects for our offspring, I want to give the idea some more consideration.

We've eaten together as a family for all of our children's lives. At 18 and 20, they are both about to leave home, and as they do, it's worth wondering, for me anyway, whether or not all those meals together had the intended good. After all, we are not without difficulties here in this family, with grades and drugs both. Yet, in spite of our tribulations, I have never felt our problems, or those of our children to be impossible to overcome, nor so inevitable as to be pointless to struggle against. In fact, dinner time has been our most interesting time as a family; it is when we've manged to reach our most solid agreements, and come to some spectacularly showy disagreements!

A communal meal is a crucible for human behavior I believe. On this Valery and I agreed long before we had children, and we've made every effort to make dinner in our house a welcoming and warm social event. Of course it doesn't hurt that Valery is fabulous cook, but I can say with some pride that it was most often to our table that our children's friends flocked over the years, and many still do. Few have failed to jump at the invitation to return our table once they've been there just once. More than one of Pierre's and Maddie's friends have told us how much they've enjoyed our table and the pleasure of being a part of our 'banquets', even though they were really simple but freshly prepared meals

We've done this over the years as a matter of principle; a 'food is free' sort of philosophy, and not as an inocculation for our children's health or to boost their grades so they can get better jobs. No, we ate dinner together it because it seemed, and of course, still does, like the right thing to do. We actually enjoy each other's company. Everyone gets to have their say. The small details that get swallowed up so fast in life these days are made meaningful in the time we have together. We talk of the most minute daily happenings and thoughts, plan, dream and tease each other. We reminisce and speak often of our cats, those children to our children who also fill our lives with love and affection.

The conversation at our table is not always deep but most often we find a way to have a laugh or two and perhaps share some wonderment at the world. This is what I try specifically to bring to the table. Lynda used to say that there are three things you can talk about: people, things or ideas. For my part, I love talking about the latter. I love to talk about the art thoughts and ideas that have changed or are changing the world; dreams are not to be discounted and generosity of thought and spirit is to be reinforced.

The question is, has it made any difference?

Interestingly, this is the exact opposite direction from the one that the radio story took, choosing instead to test the premise that eating together more frequently would and could somehow help the dis-functional family. In other words, the premise was that dinner's magical 'family-regenerating' power has already been proven. It is like a medication; take two of these a week and your family's mental will improve. Oh, and your kids will get better grades. Right.

I guess I am torn here because I so obviously believe that that eating together is among the most important and oldest of human traditions, yet I also remain unconvinced that it in fact holds the power that I once thought it did. Despite the double negativity, that seems to sum it up pretty well. While I am obliged to admit that the alternative couldn't have been better, and therefore conclude that it is clear that my misgivings are mostly self-directed doubt, questions like these are the essence of my thoughts.

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