Family Day

One of the common refrains that I hear from parents is how tough it is to keep up with everything that is going on in the lives of their kids.  My own brothers and sisters will sometimes roll their eyes, and with a deep sigh recite the litany of activities and events that keeps them and my nieces and nephews on the go – school and plenty of after school activities, homework, athletics, shopping at the mall, youth group at their local parish – the list goes on and on!  They tell me that they sometimes feel more like chauffeurs than parents!

Added into the mix for any parent these days are the innumerable pressures and temptations that young people are faced with – smoking, alcohol, drugs, sex.  The normal adolescent inclination to test boundaries, to tune out Mom and Dad because they think that they’re all grown up and can make their own decisions, leaves many parents wondering, “how do we cope?  What can we do to help our children navigate and make good decisions during these critical years in their lives?”

Fortunately, there is a simple, but highly effective tool that parents can use: eat dinner together as a family on a regular basis.

I’ve written about this before, but I believe in it so much that I wanted to bring it to your attention again.  Next Monday, September 24, is Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children.  It’s the brainchild of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, which was founded by my friend Joe Califano, former presidential advisor and Secretary for Health, Education and Welfare.

There’s now more than a decade’s worth of research, all of it supporting the idea that the more a family gathers around the dinner table, the less likely a child is to engage in any kind of substance abuse, whether it be smoking, drinking or drugs.  What you eat for dinner isn’t really important – no fancy gourmet meals, or elaborate menus are required.  What is important is spending that time talking – and listening – with your kids.  CASA lists a simple, four point pledge to becoming a STAR family:

S- Spend time with my kids by having dinner together
T- Talk to them about their friends, interests and the dangers of drugs and alcohol
A- Answer their questions and listen to what they say
R- Recognize that I have the power to help keep my kids substance free!

The older I get – I’m 62 now – the more I appreciate what my Mom and Dad did for us Dolan kids.  We had dinner together every night when Dad got home from work.  The meals weren’t elaborate (we couldn’t afford elaborate!) but they were vitally important for us to talk with one another, listen to one another, and, yes, be accountable to one another and to my parents.

If yours is one of those families that is constantly on the run, might I ask that you set aside this Monday and have dinner with your children – and that you work hard to make family dinner a regular part of your routine.  It’s a simple thing to do, and the benefits could be truly life changing for your children.

6 Responses to “Family Day”

  1. I agree. Family meals together are so important. There is a reason we always read in the Gospels that Jesus was eating with people. Eating ritually establishes a connection. Just a thought: if dinners don’t work, try breakfasts. Sometimes during hectic weeks, breakfasts can be unifying times too!

  2. Frank says:

    Beautifully put Cardinal. I agree 100%, time at the table is time to talk.

  3. Margaret Brusic says:

    When I was growing up my family always had dinner together except it was at 4:00 in the afternoon just before my father went to work the night shift. It was early for dinner, but I would not have had much time to see my father during the week if it wasn’t for sitting down and having a meal together. At the time I thought it was silly to have dinner so early but I realize now how grateful I am for the time we spent together. My brother does the same with his children now. I think that it’s one of the reasons why they are thoughtful, caring and well behaved children.

  4. Cardanial Dolan, You are right on tarket!
    I hope this blog is hopefully read by many Husbands and Wives. I grow up in the Bronx and our family dinner was fun telling our parents about what had happend when we were playing that day. I also remember the times when my Mom would be down in the aprartment of family of eight children. My mom would put a towel on the railing and my sister and I knew our lunch would be in their apartment. We would walk back to school with their children. Our school was St. Angela Merci in the bronx. My dad was a bus driver and at night he would tell us all the stories he heard of the people on the bus and we so enjoyed those stories. Yes! Family live was alive in those years. God Bless you Cardinal Dolan! Sister Loretta

  5. Mary Greene says:

    Good Lord. It took Columbia a decade’s worth of research to come to this conclusion? And there is only ONE day set aside for it? And to interject a little Catholicism, what happened to grace before meals?

  6. rbj says:

    Cardinal Dolan I pray that you will come out against the draconian budget cuts proposed by Republican politicians at all levels of government. That would truly be a way to support our families. However, I am afraid your political leanings will force you not to take such a stance. Very sad in many peoples opinion, and with potential harm to many immigrant members.

    With prayers to you, and with the hope this is read (although I suspect it will never be posted). Perhaps that is why I find myself, and many others, turning away from an increasing partisan Church.