Happy Families Share the All-Important One Meal a Day

The modern-day family finds itself in a major time crunch. But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice happiness. Parents are pulled one way (work, work, work!) and kids another (school, sports, dance classes, studying for SATs). You’re lucky if you have one meal a day together — but, actually psychologists say that may be enough.

The all-important one meal a day isn’t about the food as much as it is about the chance to maintain those meaningful social ties essential to a happy family life. Mealtime is when family members can

  • Catch each other up on what’s going on in their lives

  • Negotiate changes in family rules

  • Ventilate (allow to breathe, as it were, in contrast to venting which describes a volcanic eruption of raw emotion) their feelings without being judged

  • Ask for advice

  • Reinforce each other’s individual achievements

  • Plan future events

  • Make sure everyone is doing their family “jobs”

  • Have intelligent discussions about current events

  • Talk about spiritual issues

  • Revisit their biological roots

It’s a time when family members can support one another be reminded that they belong to something greater than themselves.

In today’s super-busy world, getting together routinely for a particular meal – for example, dinner at home — may be difficult. That’s fine — then have breakfast together if that fits your family schedule better or meet for dinner at a restaurant. What is important when it comes to happiness is not the time or location, but rather the fact that the family spends some meaningful time together each and every day.

You don’t have to be a slave to family rituals.

A slave, by definition, has no choice about what he does in life from one minute to the next.

Sallie is a good example of someone who is a slave to family rituals. Her teenage daughter comes home from school and announces, “There’s a big basketball game tonight. Everybody’s going to be there. So, let’s get to the gym early, okay?”

Sallie, who just got home from work, replies, “I haven’t started dinner yet and that’s going to take a while.” Ritual # 1: Our family must always sit down for a complete, full-scale evening meal no matter what’s going on.

Sallie fixes dinner, the family eats. When they’re finished the daughter says, “Okay, let’s get going or we’ll be late.” The family is ready to go, but Sallie isn’t — “You all go ahead. I’ve got to clean up.” The family protests, “Come on — you can clean up after we get home.” But Sallie is adamant about Ritual # 2: You can’t leave dirty dishes on the counter no matter what.

Looking rather unhappy, the family — without Sallie — heads off for the game. As if Sallie didn’t feel bad enough realizing she was missing out on a good time with her family while they were gone, she felt even worse when her daughter ran in and shouted, “What a great game! You should have seen it. It was fantastic! The gym was packed. Everybody asked where you were.”

Rituals are just patterns of habitual behavior that make life a little more predictable and stable. But they shouldn’t be set in stone and you shouldn’t be a slave to them. Never pass up a good time just to get the dishes done!

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