Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Getting the Facts & Knowing the Reasons (and Missing the Point Entirely)

This post is my reaction to a Scientific American article written by Carrie Arnold that I read this morning. In the style of Mythbusters, the author has very neatly missed the main points. She claims to debunk the "myth" of the importance of family meals in parent-child bonding. Instead, she asserts that you should hop in your vehicle and drive somewhere to truly bond. Never mind that your attention will be divided by the act of driving, or that you will no doubt either be rushed to get somewhere, or wasting gas, or not taking a more environmentally responsible method of travel, no, it is more important that parenting be squeezed into the parent's schedule wherever it conveniently fits. Even if meal time is not really so sacred (which I will come back to), not one mention was made of going for a long walk together during which distractions would surely be less than when driving, and time would not be rushed. Or washing dishes together, where making eye contact isn't as likely to cause a multi-car pileup.

It all comes down to convenience, doesn't it? We hear over and over how it's not about how much time you spend with your child, but the quality of that time. How can a parent who is paying attention to the demands of driving truly consider such time to be "quality time"? It would seem to many that simply "being present" so your child has an opportunity to talk is enough. I have news for you: it is not. Not by a long shot. The conversation and bonding part of parenting requires more than presence in body; it requires your full, undivided, undistracted attention. You need to listen, not just hear. You need to provide input and feedback too, yes, but most of the job demands listening. By listening I mean listening not only to the words that are spoken, but to their context, paying attention to body language, and listening "between the lines" for the things that are not said as well. You need to make yourself fully available to your child during these times. And you need to do this without sneaking peeks at your watch or cell phone. In fact, the phone should be off, as should all personal electronics.

Maybe the family dinner isn't the best place for these sort of interactions, but the push for a return to the family dinner is about a lot more than one-on-one parental bonding time. Which is another place in which this article has missed the mark.

I have already written about the benefits of the family dinner, so I will just summarize here. The family dinner can provide the following benefits:
  • purposeful slowing down from the usual "rat race"
  • promotes healthy eating habits by eating home-cooked, locally grown whole foods together
  • modelling positive nutritional standards
  • encouraging kids to cook real food (not just reheats, frozen prepared "meals" or water-boilers)
  • encourages family conversation, and conversation about current events and issues
  • allows each member to discuss their days and how things are going in everyday life
  • helps reinforce dining manners
  • as a regular tradition, it provides a "home base" and a level of stability that family members can rely upon
I am disappointed that Scientific American would take such a narrow interpretation, but this seems to be a growing trend in popular media.