Well, you have to start somewhere, and taking a long, honest look at the disruptive schedule is a good and necessary first step. I wrote earlier of my belief that our children today are overscheduled and their lives over-managed by parents. While it may sound harsh, the more we schedule our children into adult-led structured activities outside the home, the less time they have for creative free play, learning the joy and discipline of solitary studiousness, and developing the ability to resolve their own differences. When they get home too late in the day, they are often over-tired and over-stimulated, and low blood glucose makes them cranky. What’s more, today’s children live in an increasingly unstable world, including unstable families, and family instability is unhealthy at any age. A shared family meal on a near-daily basis can go a long way in providing children with what they most need from their family: safety, face-time, encouragement, down-time, comfort, discipline, mentoring, and yes, even the predictability of structure, including set times for meals, homework, prayer, and lights out. Research clearly shows that children of families who frequently share meals at home actually perform better academically. . This is because children thrive on the dependability a structured family time affords, and truly benefit from the regular chance for practicing conversation, story-telling, shared prayer, and listening skills. Furthermore, as communication technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous, face time has become imperiled. Meals create opportunities for face-to-face exchange of ideas when the life of the family takes precedence, and the texting and phone calls are temporarily banned.
So, we probably can all agree that shared family time is critically important in a child’s development, and that because we all have to eat, a family meal is an ideal place to come together. But, our shared dinner hours are difficult to make happen. I believe that sports participation is the second most common cause of fractured family time at the dinner hour, the first being when all adults in the family work full time outside the home, or one or both parents’ work requires frequent travel or shift work. At some point, you may have to admit that it is not necessary or healthy, for your younger children especially, to participate in sports on a year-round basis. When we get caught up in travel teams, twice-weekly lessons with a pro, and hiring a special sports trainer for out-of-season conditioning for our 10 year-olds, we have stepped over a line in most cases, and we have done so at the real peril of regular, intentional family time. It is important for parent and child alike to learn that no one family member’s activities should consistently dictate the entire family’s schedule and routine.
Try to find several days each week when every family member is expected to be home for dinner at a reasonable predetermined time. Teenagers with work and school obligations will need to negotiate nights off from the family meal commitment, but should not be allowed to assume that their presence at the table isn’t important on a regular basis; while it is critical at this age for teens to begin to learn about the privilege of independence, they must not forsake their place in, and obligations to the family either.
In post #46 we will continue to look at ways to get a family meal on the table in these hectic times. PLEASE! If you like what you are reading, share this blog with friends at church. Leave your suggestions and comments in the LEAVE a REPLY box below.
~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.
a very under-developed characteristic in my college students
 Susan Fiske, “The Spiritual Costs of the Missing Family,” By Faith Magazine 34 (Winter 2011): p.29.
 Catherine E. Snow, Unfulfilled Expectations: Home and School Influences on Literacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000).
 Sharon M Fruh et al, “The Surprising Benefits of the Family Meal,” The Journal for Nurse Practitioners 7, no. 1 (2011): 18-22.
 As a child-athlete myself, and the spouse and parent of child-athletes, I do not pick on sports with random disdain. The ramped-up nature of the sporting world has made indelible marks on Christian families that we ignore to our peril, and we need to start and continue serious ongoing theological reflection and discussion in Christian circles of the true and rightful place of sports in a child’s and family’s life. The same can be said for any other extra-curricular activity.
Featured Image Credit: http://edacious1.blogspot.com/2008/06/good-eating-at-ball-park.html