Friday, July 11, 2008

Dinner time togetherness

Today's Slate inspired post is on having dinner with your children. The article cites various studies showing beneficial effects from everyone having dinner together for both children and parents. Of course, it is hard to work out whether the dinners cause the benefits or the benefits cause the dinner or something else causes both. Indeed, the NPR program that delves into this further suggests that the type of conversation you have over dinner really matters. You listen to that and you just worry.

Anyhow, we are a household that dines together. This is one of the benefits of having our dual incomes coming from academia and public service. We can all be at home by 5 or so. And that means dinners together at 5:30 almost every night. (Well, actually, these days the other parent darts off to the gym or something so we ain't the perfect model of this anymore).

Now the studies suggest that you have to have meaningful conversations for all this to mean anything. From this I take to it to mean pleading to sit still or eat your vegetables or not wipe your dirty face on your shirt doesn't cut it. On that latter one, it does result in instant shirt removal without replacement.

We do better with "how was your day at school?" with the typical response "good" or "I don't want to say" which always piques my interest, making said child not wanting to have even said they didn't want to say. Sometimes it is more intriguing and we hear about playground politics and engage in thoughtful responses of how to deal with it. For example,
"So and so won't let me play this and that."

"Well, have you tried asking nicely."

"Yeesss, it doesn't work. They just tell me to go away."

"Well, maybe this and that is pretty dull. How about doing something more interesting? You get the interest and that just shows them!"

"There isn't anything more interesting."

"You know maybe I can just come into school and flog those bastards."

"Dad, you're not helping."
And so it goes on. This is far removed from the intellectual discussion that is supposed to be associated with dinner time togetherness. So sometimes an adult attempts to transmit knowledge:
"So they think they discovered water on Mars today."

"We already have water here."

"True and we have life here too. If they find water on Mars that might mean there is life there too."

"Why can't they just look around for the life and not bother with the water?"

"Well, it may be that the life died out many years ago. So the water indicates life might have been there."

"In that case, the water didn't do them much good, did it?"

"True, I guess not."
Suffice it to say, perhaps we should leave the serious learning to school.