There has been some discussion here of the whole family eating together, and custom dictates that if it can’t be arranged for all meals, it should at least be for dinner. What does this have to do with childhood obesity? The possible benefits are specific to each case but undeniable — if, that is, the experience is pleasant for the child. Anything that increases a child’s feeling of security and of being loved and valued will hold at bay some of the emotional states that can lead to eating disorders and obesity.
If, on the other hand, the justification for compelling shared dinnertime is to keep an eye on what the kids are eating, a lot of that will already be accomplished by the difficulties of supply and affordability in this messed-up era.
If the mandatory shared dinner is a purgatory of criticism and hostility from parents and/or siblings, being required to participate in the meaningless ritual can do a lot of damage. To force unwilling participants to share mealtimes could lead to more negativity.
Of course, this problem is exacerbated by the conditions of the pandemic. People are asked to stay home as much as possible, for the good of society. But it might not be for the good of the household members. For someone who just needs to get out of there for a while, there are fewer excuses and fewer refuges. Also, for many adults, work is nonexistent or unsteady, and can involve erratic schedules.
Even when kids have enough sleep and a regular schedule, some of them just don’t eat first thing in the morning. Maybe they have a quirky metabolism that doesn’t want to start the day with the requirement to digest a bunch of stuff. If they are otherwise healthy, late breakfast is not the biggest problem a parent could face, and probably not worthy of being a “hill to die on” as the saying goes. To make anyone follow a strict three-times-a-day eating schedule is something of an incursion on personal liberty.
Homes become communes
Especially in hard times, nuclear families tend to become extended. A household might be a motley collection of adults and children; blood relatives, in-laws, friends, and even the occasional desperate stranger who has nowhere else to live. If all these folks want to share the preparation and consumption of dinner, have at it. But would anyone expect, or try to compel, the others to participate?
People have allergies, and preferences, and days when they just don’t feel like eating. They have doubts about their housemates’ kitchen hygiene habits. There is the whole question of who pays for what supplies, and when, and how.
Of course, in the case of kids, all that philosophizing must be balanced against the needs of parents who can’t be jumping up every hour to feed somebody on demand. A compromise can be attained by preparing large batches of something that can be warmed up by each participant at will. It is nice to keep sandwich fixings available. That privilege should be accompanied by an understanding that each person who opens the lunch meat package is responsible for closing it up again in clean, airtight condition.
On any day, all we can do is the best we can, and we should try not to do less than our best. Some words from parenting expert Ariadne Brill are appropriate here:
Every child and every situation is unique, so these tools are not one-size-fits-all but rather a list of ideas to lean on to expand your parenting toolbox. I find that striving to use proactive tools like these to respond to and to guide children towards better choices works far more positively than having to react when things have gotten out of hand.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “12 alternatives to spanking and timeout,” AttachmentParenting.org, 10/02/14
Image by Joost Markerink/CC BY 2.0