The Family at Christmas


So many of us are surrounded by family during the Christmas holiday. Family is the social context in which the memories of Christmas are built. When you think about it, the arrival of Christ and the launch of his ministry was deeply integrated with his family. There’s nothing new here, just some reflections about the intersection of family and the advent.

  • God decided to visit humanity through the doorway of the family.  He had spoken and intervened in so many other ways in the past; a flood, a burning bush, mad prophets…but now it was to be through the ordinary lives of a humble and obedient family.
  • This family almost falls to pieces before it even begins its eternal purpose. But angels and dreams provide the assurance that all will be well. All families are just as susceptible to breaking apart. Now, just as it’s always been, communication and vulnerability are essential for maintaining family stability and strength.
  • Jesus becomes fully human within the context of his family. Just like the rest of us, those early experiences were essential to his development as a son, a brother, a friend and our Savior.
  • The way of salvation for all humanity is made safe and guarded by a frail earthly family. Dreams in the middle of the night and voice of angels kept Jesus the baby safe during those early years on the road and in Egypt (that place of exile). He remained safe in the arms of his mother and father. But not every child would stay safe.
  • His family remains until the very end of Jesus’ mission on earth – members of his family stick close to him and remain faithful up until his death. They are not necessarily seeking to understand but instead seek to demonstrate their love.  This is what families can do best, accept us and care for us, no matter the risks.

“The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved.”
– Victor Hugo

Something is Missing

“I wonder how much of the day I spend just callin’ after you.” 
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Didn’t you notice when you were a teenager and your favorite band had a knock down drag out fight and then someone left or got kicked out (depends on who’s telling the story). Typically it never seemed the same again. That original sound was gone.

Everyone always talks about Journey after Steve Perry left…Arnel is close, but…

We just had a number of deaths in our Sunday School class this past month – moms and grandmothers. There are also a number of other older family members that are frail and needing ever more attention. Families lose members as life marches onward, but it’s never without grief.

Then all of a sudden a young wife and mother who is a dear friend suddenly died. She left behind three children and her husband. They were all just starting the next phase of their lives, kids finishing high school and heading off to college.

People all around you are living in families that are missing someone. These days, according to our social trends, these are choices that people have made. Divorce, abandonment, single-parenthood, and living alone are all much more “normal” than they have ever been. When families fall apart or when they never get stuck together in the first place, something is always missing from our lives. A spouse, parent, sibling, and extended family connection are all holes that never get filled up with substitutions.

That missing piece never gets replaced.

The family is a system that accomplishes essential tasks for individual survival and for the health of our entire society. The individual members of that system; parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. all fulfill important roles.

We have never stopped needing dads. The National Center for Fathering reports this alarming trend from census data:

Children Living with Mother Only-bwh graph

  • Source: US Census Bureau, “Living Arrangements of Children Under 18″: Tables –CH-2, CH-3, CH-4. 1960 – Present. U.S.  Census Bureau July 1, 2012.

What about the costs to our entire society? The U.S. Army now reports that only 30% of 18-24 year-olds would qualify for military service. The rest, 7 out of 10, can’t qualify because they are too fat, didn’t graduate from high school or have a criminal record.  That’s a whole set of family related problems that effect our entire nation.

No system is perfect, but why sabotage it with promiscuity, divorce, single parent-hood, fatherlessness, and illegitimacy? These versions of family life don’t work very well. It’s been documented. We keep doing it because we are shopping for happiness and settling for what’s left.  Once you have children, it’s never about you again…they aren’t here to make you happy, you’re here to raise them.

 “The home is the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose, and that is to support the ultimate career.”   – C.S. Lewis

Today, all I can think about are my friends who are trying to figure out how to put their lives back together as a family without their wife/mother.


I held a Jewel in my fingers
And went to sleep
The day was warm, and winds were prosy
I said, “Twill keep”

I woke – and chide my honest fingers,
The Gem was gone
And now, an Amethyst remembrance
Is all I own

– Emily Dickenson

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted…”


Decisive Marriage


“If I get married, I want to be very married.”
- Audrey Hepburn

A recent article in the NY Times summarizes some very important research about marriage. The findings are from the National Marriage Project report. One key finding that Times columnist Tara Parker-Pope wrote about was:

Sliding versus deciding. Couples who make intentional decisions regarding “major relationship transitions” are more likely to flourish than those who slide through transitions.

Apparently when couples treat their relationships as a big deal, when they decide to get married and go through with all the formalities, when they invest time, emotions and even wealth into their commitment to one another – their relationship tends to flourish.


Don’t you love it when science confirms common sense? What we invest ourselves into ultimately grows in value. It reminds me of one those online dating commercials. The guy asks this woman how she goes about finding someone to date and she gets this confused look on her face and says, “well, I just bump into people.” Or something like that.

Casual relationships don’t produce lasting families or fertile habitations in which to nurture children. Cautious love is always ready to fall apart. It waits for it around each and every crisis. Rather than clinging together when the storms come, spontaneous lovers are always looking over their should to be certain the other person hasn’t jumped out of the lifeboat.

Our culture now values casual sex as a way to appease our appetites. Just sit down one evening and watch a little TV. Casual sex is the norm now. All stigma have been removed from sexual promiscuity. (I’m not even sure that it’s possible to be promiscuous anymore, regardless of how you behave.) There are no more sexual deviants in our popular culture.

But we have always had deeper needs for relationship, commitment, and security. There’s just not a selfish way to make these come true. Popular culture gives us a laugh and erodes our common sense. It’s a bag of potato chips. Wonderful to sit down with but we all know it’s never going to give us any nourishment. What’s on next?

Yet decisive relationships are never free from injury or pain. Thoughtful relationships can hurt us deeply whether they are investments into the lives of people, career, or dreams. These days we are so afraid to risk. We have witnessed too much brokenness and bitterness a la the freak show that is now reality TV.  Who wants to stick their neck out? Perhaps it will turn into a noose?

“If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.”  – Clint Eastwood

But that’s what life is meant to be, a risk. Because if you hang on to your life, your hopes and every little dream, they will turn to dust. You have to stick your neck out. You have to dream big and never stop hoping.

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
– Langston Hughes

What Is Linklater’s “Boyhood” About?

“He promised us that everything would be okay. I was a child, but I knew that everything would not be okay. That did not make my father a liar. It made him my father.”  – Jonathan Safran Foer

Did you see native Houstonian Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking film Boyhood yet? If you haven’t, then go see it THEN come back to read this post…

Everyone is talking about Boyhood because the film is a “documentary” of the life of Mason Jr. as he develops from a 6 year old until he arrives at college. The film took twelve years to make because he documented the same actor (Ellar Coltrane) throughout his progression through his “boyhood.”  This is what seems so remarkable to everyone. While watching the film one is dazzled at how seamless the transformations occur as Mason grows into adulthood. Of course we have all been raised on special effects and nothing should amaze us anymore. Perhaps what makes audiences so appreciative is the fact that they are witnessing a normal human process take place right before their eyes. A process that everyone witnesses all around them every single day, but probably takes for granted.

What was amazing to me about the film was something else.  While Mason was growing up in a single-parent home (as more than 40% of American children today are) he experienced many of the problems associated with this kind of life. Ultimately, upon reaching adulthood and launching off to college, Mason seemed completely lost and lacking any sort of direction and connection to meaning. For me it was a tragic story because I read the reports and know that this movie was probably very similar to the real experience of many of today’s teens and young adults. The most bitter aspect of this tragedy is that our society seems oblivious to what’s happening to our children because of our fickle commitment to family.

  • Mason was an unplanned birth by two young parents who divorced and did not maintain a healthy communication with one another.
  • Mason’s father was eager to create a meaningful relationship with his children but his own lifestyle prevented much stability. He only made sporadic visits. His children were unable to watch him model as a parent.
  • Mason’s mother, like most single moms, worked hard to make ends meet and ultimately decided to go back to school to increase her chances of a better paying job. This meant less time with her children as they were growing up. When she was with her children, time was not spent providing order and discipline but trying to create a close friendship.
  • The family, like most single families had to move and the children had to leave friends and schools behind. This created a level of constant chaos and emotional anxiety in their lives.
  • New stepfathers and step-families were created along the way as Mason’s mother tried to provide a better life for herself and her family. This often ended up exposing her children to unhealthy relationships, more abandonment and cynicism about adults.
  • Both Mason and his sister were initiated into drug use, alcohol and sex at an early age. Their mother seemed to condone the behavior, maintaining a friendship being her ultimate goal.
  • When Mason did have experiences with adults who tried to instill in him useful social values it was typically someone who he did not respect or who sounded like a step-father from his haunted past. Mason’s own father encouraged him as a free spirit while he himself was selling his hot rod and buying a mini-van.
  • An ironic scene in the film, Mason’s mother is teaching a college course in psychology. The lecture she is giving in this scene is about British psychologist John Bowlby and his attachment theory. Infant’s healthy attachments to primary caregivers (mothers and fathers) are essential for their later emotional development.
  • The actor who played Mason Jr., Ellar Coltrane, experienced the break up of his own family while he was making this film. He reports that one of the film crew ended up teaching him how to drive when it came time to get his license. That’s an important rite of passage for a son.

For me it was a very haunting experience as the film ended with Mason walking through the Big Bend scenery at sunset. He has traveled to the end of his childhood and was just as lost as a baby would have been. He was never given the healthy grounding in reality, the basic lessons about life, the foundational experiences of love and acceptance that all children ought to have in order to make a healthy and strong start to live.

I’m not naive, I realize that teens rebel and college kids can get really flaky. That’s not what I’m talking about here. Linklater wrote a script that seemed to present Mason as a harmless, sweet, genial yet completely lost young man once he journeyed off to college. He didn’t have anything to rebel against. In the film Mason’s mother and father never really spent the consistent and constant time instilling into him by their presence and practice what it means to love and be loved.

No one has a perfect family to grow up in. That’s not the point. My large point is that we are witnessing the disintegration of the core social institution in our civilization and no one seems very bothered. Less than 20% of American households are made up of a married couple with children. No one is raising any alarms. No one is calling it what it is – The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

When the film ended I was sitting in the the theater trying to catch my breath and process what I had just witnessed. I could hear people around me standing up and clapping.

“Civilization is a race between disaster and education.”  – H.G. Wells

Summer Memory


“Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough.”  – T.S. Eliot

For me, July 4th has always been a hot and soggy memory of camping, fishing, and most of all family.

On one side of our family we had an annual camp out on the river every year. It lasted a week and culminated with a fish fry on the 4th of July. We gathered by family groups and pitched our tents, wigwams, cots, pick up trucks, sleeping bags, etc. all up and down the Llano river. During the early morning hours we would fish and check our lines. All day long in the hot sun the distant cousins would play and swim in the river filled with cold green water and memories.

Once a year during my growing up years I got to be around my distant family. Great aunts and uncles, great-great grandparents and second, third, fourth and faraway cousins. Our family was flung all over the state of Texas. Some remained in small towns living a rural life. Others had moved into the city and took up white collar occupations. But come July 4th, we all put on our hillbilly costumes and camped out together.

As we grew up we wanted to share this experience with our own children. People didn’t really talk about it but it was somehow important to pass on to the next generation. We all have photographs of ourselves as children up at the river that we can lay next to photos of our own children at the same place, having the same fun, all surrounded by family (everyone is still holding a beer can??).

I look at those photos now and I remember all of those people in my life, all of those people who somehow contributed to shaping me into who I am becoming.

“People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad. “  – Marcel Proust

Over the many generations that we held our reunion at the river there would sometimes be dramatic changes to the landscape. Sometimes there would be a flood and the river would have washed away some of the trees and reshaped the banks. Other years dry seasons would mean that the river was shallow in places and meandered through its course like a thin serpent.

As I look back on all those years our family was changing too.  Divorce was fracturing relationships and scattering children. Busy careers left the younger generation with less time for family reunions. As the older generation began to pass away they took with them many of their values that seemed to hold family together, come famine or flood.

That river has come to mean many things to me over my life so far. As I was growing up it was an experience that filled my dreams with adventure as I anticipated the arrival of July. Typically the only time I saw most of my distant family was at this reunion. The first generation that started this custom have all passed away. Now when I think about those summers, it has become a long series of conversations flowing through my memory. As an adult I long for time to spend once again with these people from my past.  I remember these characters and the collective treasure they brought each summer, up to the river, all bundled up in a sleeping bag.

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.”  – John Banville

Secret Messages and a Possible Future

“No matter how far we come, our parents are always in us.”
- Brad Meltzer

super-childOne day when your children are almost adults one of them will say something aloud that will knock you off your chair. He will remember something that you said, something that you didn’t even remember at the time saying, it was so quick and sudden and even sharp. But it was remembered. You will be amazed that he even heard much less remembered and can now recite those words.

“We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others—our parents, for instance—and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live.”   - Charles Taylor

Your whole lives together you are communicating messages to your children. So much of that communication seems secret because (1) you don’t think anyone is listening (2) it didn’t seem that important at the time, and (3) maybe you said it so often that it became automatic. When your children grow up, those secret messages will often come to light. They will rise from the dead and you will see that they were either nourishing the soul or haunting the emerging self.

Social Psychology introduces to us the term Possible Selves. We think about our future self and either anticipate with optimism all that is possible OR we imagine a negative potential with a pessimistic future outlook. What kind of a person do you want to be next week, next year, in ten years? These days, how limitless/limited are all your possibilities?

When we build our future self we use all sorts of materials to put it together – including those secret messages our parents gave us.

  • If you didn’t get enough positive and inspiring secret messages (and deliberate parenting!) when you were growing up, research tells us that you should think about those experiences as a part of your distant past. Instead focus on the self you are now creating and the successes you have more recently experienced. This helps your autobiographical memory work for you rather than against you.
  • If you are a parent, relative or adult friend, think about what you are communicating in all the little words, gestures and expressions you pass on to the children in your life. Everyone is building a self. It’s a group project.

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”      – Henri Nouwen

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. – I John 3:16

We All Need Somebody To Love


“Have you noticed that only in time of illness or disaster or death are people real?” – Walker Percey

Usually it’s when the bottom falls out that we discover what we’re made of.

  • Remember when your car was in the shop and your friend from work gave you a ride – for a week?
  • What about when your dad was in the hospital and your neighbor took care of your kids after school?
  • Two years ago when your friend from church was going through cancer treatments and you signed up to take meals over to her house.
  • When the hurricane hit and all those people were displaced and needed so much help getting back on their feet.

We also realize who we can count on as the going keeps getting tougher and rougher. For most of us, our families are the deep reservoir (usually taken for granted) that we  can depend upon when a disaster hits. What’s troubling is that for a growing number of Americans family is becoming a weakened resource as relationships fracture and bonds become more and more temporary.

Anthropologists use the term “Fictive Kinship” to describe those members of your family who aren’t related by marriage or biology. They are your Godparents, your best friends, your friends for life, that guy who’s just like a brother…

“One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.”  – Euripides

Many of us have these “fictive kin” in our families. We probably don’t have enough. Less than 20% of families in our country today are composed of a married couple with children. What we once called “family” is changing for all kinds of reasons.

What never changes is the deep need every one of us has for connections with others and the difficult circumstances that we will face during the course of our lives. Getting through life works better when you’ve got a team at your back.

“Having someone wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night is a very old human need. ”   – Margaret Mead

As our collective marital and biological ties to people begin to dwindle, we need to take a good hard look at the consequences. While we’re doing that, we need to compensate by make deep and abiding connections with others. People with friends are healthier, make more money and live longer. It’s even been suggested that it’s a toss up about which you should do to insure a healthier and longer life, give up smoking or make more friends.

When we face disasters in our life we need people to help us with all the little things as well as the great big ones. Everything is important. When the bottom falls out it is these “kinfolk” who come out of the woodwork and save the day.

“A friend is one who walks in when others walk out.”  – Walter Winchell

There isn’t a sign up sheet at Starbucks to get a set of “fictive kin” to add to your  family. What you need to do is start helping a friend of yours. Start building stronger bonds by bridging the gaps of time, distance and indifference. We all follow the “norm of reciprocity” to some degree – when you scratch my back, I feel obligated scratch yours. Those kinds of obligations are the building blocks of civilization. We don’t get by asking, we get by giving. Who needs you today? Start giving a little bit of yourself. A little more today than yesterday. One day soon you too will need someone.

What Marriage Are We Defending?

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians and admonished the husbands to love their wives the way that Christ loved the church – by sacrificing his life for it (Eph 5:25).

The Supreme Court has heard cases regarding same-sex marriage and made a significant ruling last year.  All of the talking heads on television are all over it. Opinions are running riot through the air waves. The American public seems to have dramatically shifted in it’s opinion on the matter.

The Defense of Marriage Act is a federal law that defines marriage and limits it to a legal union between one male and one female. It was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. It has now been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (5-4).

Former Secretary of State and Senator and First Lady Hillary Clinton has decided that she might want to run for president again. She’s come out and changed her position on same-sex marriage.  Of course, now that she’s going to run and the political winds have changed, former President Bill Clinton changed his mind too. That’s sort of what he’s famous for – jumping on whatever’s popular at the time. He’s a very successful Southern politician.

But what if all of this isn’t really about same-sex marriage?  What if our cultural anomie about marriage is an effect of something deeper – at the very heart of our civilization? What if we have slowly yet deliberately changed the very meaning of marriage?

What if marriage in our society has evolved from a union between a man and a woman for the purposes of…

  1. expressing intimacy and sacrifice,
  2. producing and raising children, and
  3. making a living together

,,,to something more immediate?

What if the real reason we get married today is because we are seeking emotional happiness and personal satisfaction with our own life?

Is it possible that the most important reason that I would get married today is because I am seeking fulfillment for emotional needs in my life (at least those that I am aware of right now)?

“I want to get married because of what it can give to me.”

I wonder if marriage is no longer mainly a domain of sacrifice and commitment but instead has been transformed to one of personal need fulfillment and a “happiness retreat” from the impersonal world of work.

Our culture has become so successful that we really don’t need other people for personal interaction. We just need people to show up and do their jobs. (Or so we think). What we can’t get from the drive-thru or the computer screen is love and happiness. As humans we need this, so we seek it in cohabitation and marriage. When happiness fades, we move on.

I think we’ve changed the purpose of marriage without even realizing it. So now, it makes perfect sense to base marriage, partner selection and even having children on individual wish fulfillment criteria.

“This makes me happy right now, so it must be the right thing to do.”

America is one of the few societies in the history of the world to base marriage almost solely on romantic love.

Members of a society who think and act like this are not at all concerned with the social repercussions of their behavior. Year after year I have shown classrooms of students research findings on the devastating effects of divorce on children. But over and over again these same students overwhelmingly answer “YES” to the statement “if two people are not happy together, even if they have children, they should get divorced.”

(Many of these ideas are from the late Judith Wallerstein)

I think we have to figure out what marriage means before we can even begin to debate who can be married.

[Did you know that over 40% of children in America are born out of wedlock?]

The world we live in has changed (it always does), our social institutions have changed. I’m not certain our values have kept up. Marriage and family isn’t a political platform plank. It more resembles the mortar and brick with which our civilization is built. As you look up and down your street, listen to the news, watch the elections, read the magazines, what is OUR civilization being transformed into for the next generation?

“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”  Pope John Paul II (1986)

How Many Days For Mom?






Youth fades; love droops; the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’s secret hope outlives them all.  - Oliver Wendell Holmes

I met a mom recently. She was with her son as he visited the university. They were trying to figure out the future. She wasn’t wearing a wedding ring so I assumed that it was just the two of them striking out on this next adventure together. He seemed very excited and full of questions. He was looking down toward his future and his eyes were glazed with hope.

She smiled during our interview and asked questions like any concerned parent. I glanced over at her every now and then and I think I could see a glimmer in her own eyes. She was looking down toward that same future with her son but her gaze was filled with a tinge of sadness and a lonely acceptance. She knew he was leaving one day, one day soon. As a single parent, maybe they had fought some hard battles together to make their lives work. They seemed to have a strong friendship that would always last.

One day a Mother’s Day will come and you will wonder how you ever made it without her. Somehow in a thousand little ways she pushed you into a hope that maybe she never had.

I’ve got a friend whose mom is far away and trying to manage the health care of her frail husband. He’s been in the hospital and he’s not recovering well. She has so many hard decisions to make all by herself. His mind has been fading away for some time now. My friend is far away and so busy. He’s in that stage of life where it’s now his turn to care for his aging parents. The roles are shifting. They don’t always shift easily for everyone. I’m sure that she’s scared, lonely and dreading the future. Who wouldn’t have those feelings?

One day a Mother’s Day will come and you realize that your mom needs you more than words will ever communicate.

As we approach our celebration of Mother’s Day, think about how that social role – MOM – has changed in your lifetime.

Our moms are on the job. Actually on two jobs. Seventy percent are working outside the home and all are working at home. When women come home from work and then “clock in” to start on all the housework that must be done, we call this the second shift. There are all kinds of ways that working families have figured out how to share the load, but research continues to reveal that mom bears most of the burden, still. Maybe its time for you to get up off the couch or come out of your room and unload the dishwasher or do some laundry without saying a word.

And keep helping because it’s the right thing to do.

I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life. – Abraham Lincoln

Forty percent of our children are now raised by a single mom. That has certainly changed the role of MOM in our families. She’s now left the home and gone to work, many are working an extra job to make ends meet. Who’s at home when the bus drops the kids off from school? Who’s helping with all that extra homework these days? Who’s teaching all those lessons about what it means to be an adult?

Who’s got time?

Somehow it gets done for so many. Don’t you know single moms who have made it work? Who have figured out how to raise remarkable children AND make the ends come together each month. Where’s the big glow in the dark trophy for those moms?

Most that I know aren’t even mildly interested in that kind of recognition. What they want more than anything you can see in their eyes when they watch their child from across the room as he talks to a new friend or adult.  She watches and knows that the tears, stand-offs and pitched battles were worth it all.

Happy Mother’s Day…everyday


I love my mother for all the times she said absolutely nothing…. Thinking back on it all, it must have been the most difficult part of mothering she ever had to do: knowing the outcome, yet feeling she had no right to keep me from charting my own path. I thank her for all her virtues, but mostly for never once having said, “I told you so.”   — Erma Bombeck



Pass the Peas


The Family Meal

Recently the pastor made a quick reference to the numerous studies on the strong correlation between family meals and children’s health (emotional, physical, mental and spiritual).

How long has that stuff been stacked up on your dining table?

Why did we stop eating together as a family?

  • Both mom and dad are working, sometimes working late.
  • Global business culture that does not keep 9-5 hours.
  • The introduction of internet and technical hardware meant that work stopped being so regulated by the traditional 9-5 boundaries.
  • Many, many more single mothers raising children. Single mothers who are working a lot to make ends meet.
  • An increasing number of parents from broken families trying to raise their own families. All those “taken-for-granted” practices may not have been passed on.
  • The explosion of after school “careers” for children and teens in sports, music and academics. These make evening time together almost impossible.
  • Changes in public education – something new is happening in the classroom. There is more to learn, more pressure to measure learning, more learning must be sent home to be done as “work.”
  • Mobile communication devices that allowed members of the family to stay “connected” while physically apart – allowing older children and teens to live more independent lives.
  • The invention of “food” that can be prepared easily and safely by children and a microwave.
  • Large cities with sprawling suburban enclaves filled with fast-food options.
  • One downside of the turbulent 60’s – no one taught their career bound daughters (or sons) how to cook  – that’s why there are so many cooking shows on TV!
  • The minivan

Much of this increase in activity has eaten away at the time it take to have a meal together (whether it’s prepared at home, brought in as take-out, or eaten out). The bottom line is that today’s family is not “together” as often as they were in the past. Individual members may be more “connected” than ever in the history of family, but physical presence cannot be duplicated virtually.

It’s a correlation because eating together probably doesn’t cause these benefits for children (and the rest of the family). Your mom’s meatloaf may work other kinds of miracles. It’s probably a sign, among many others, that there are a number of positive family practices taking place that help build strong and practical values into each member of the family. Other positive signs of family health usually include time spent together, open communication and a stable husband/wife relationship (to name a few).

Raised by Wolves?

In other words, it’s not the meal, it’s the type of people (parents, siblings, extended family) who organize their family in such a way that eating together is important. Eating the family meal regularly is a sign that you’re in a family with the type of people who will have a better chance of raising and becoming positive, healthy and successful adults.

Families with too much relationship dysfunction don’t like to eat together. Families with schedules that are too busy don’t have time for a regular family meal. When members of your family are disengaged, disorganized or overworked they tend to eat out of a fast food bag in their room, producing over time the poor health numbers we often see in teens.

Here are the Facts

A recent Pew Research Center report on family issues includes some data on frequency of family meals, taken from a survey of adults last October. Among parents of children under age 18, half say they have dinner every day with some or all of their children, 34% say they have family meals a few times a week, 11% say they do so occasionally and 3% say they never do.

It will be interesting to see more elaborate longitudinal studies of the social and psychological consequences of family meals.