It’s not a new concept that one of the things families have lost the past few decades is the dinner table.
With both parents working in the majority of U.S. households, the explosion of afterschool and weekend activities, and the dominance of TV and video games in peoples’ lives, the art of dinner table conversation has waned.
I was fortunate to live in a household where the dinner table was lively, engaging and even occasionally profane. My two sisters and I were empowered to speak up (other than complaining about the canned vegetables). Conversation could range from school to politics, music to sports, family to friends.
As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve come to believe the “loss” of the dinner table idea is a myth. Because how much of it was real to begin with?
The sad fact is that in too many households I was invited into or have learned about, the dinner table was a mostly silent place where children’s only acceptable activity was to eat quietly. A close friend told me her recollection upon saying anything at the dinner table was the withering response, “Who rattled your cage?”
Indeed, in my own household, I’m not sure my two older sisters have the same fond memory of our dinner table. I was the beneficiary of a more “open” dinner table because by the time I was old enough to remember dinner, our family circumstances had changed to be more free-flowing.
So to those families fortunate enough to have a secure, confident parent or parents who fostered and welcomed the kind of growth children should have, “Bravo!” To those who lived in fear of disturbing the peace, I’m so sorry.
One can only hope in the 21st century household—whether one parent or two, working parent(s) or not—kids find opportunity to discover their voice. It is one of the most critical developmental things we’re supposed to provide to our children. And it doesn’t have to be at the dinner table. Our future demands it.