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Family Rituals

Adjusting the Idea of Nightly Dinners to Quality Time Together Under Changing Circumstances

Melissa DeCastro

Quality time for families is not phrase that holds one definition. In decades past, family dinners were the time when all gathered at the end of each day to sit side by side and look into the eyes of those speaking to you. Time was spent lingering together until conversations were finished often long after the meal was a enjoyed and no longer a part of the table. 

Dinner for some has changed into breakfast, and weekend meals are purporsefully planned longer to spend more time with each other. We must prioritize family time and conversations, but be cognizant and acceptably aware that dinners are not always the lone place where family conversations can occur. Family time is anytime we have together to speak up, to listen, to understand different experiences we live and most of all to connect with those we love and respect so that our individual lives are purposefully better understood by those family and friends surrounding us.

I came from a family in which family dinners were not a common experience during the week. My father is a physician in a relatively small county. This often meant that he worked everyday of the year,around the clock and regardless of whether it was a holiday, anniversary or birthday. Often he would have no choice but to miss a birthday, or a law school graduation dinner, or even family visits from afar. There was extremely limited coverage for him to take a break. So he worked everyday while patients were in labor and children born and surgeried scheduled before office began.  Gifts opened on Christmas morning were often stopped as a call came in for an emergency and we would wait to open our gifts until his return. My mother’s schedule was demanding to help my brother and I succeed and our hours  brought us home often at night when dusk had fallen and small snacks eaten for our 12 hour days aways from home. Dinner was almost homemade by my mother,  but we ate some nights at different times out of neccessity and hunger from the day.

The logistics of not always having dinner together did not mean that we had any less conversation. We spent hours in the car with my mother going back and forth to school and the radio and music was nearly almost turned off so we could talk to each other . Likewise, conversation from my father came in the morning or when he returned at night as we would watch sports games together and discuss everything from the game at hand,to how he chose his career and listen to stories of his life when he was starting out.

Now it is my husband and I who have a young toddler, and we make it a priority to spend time with him. At two he can carry on almost full conversations with his sentences clear and his choices of no question. Our schedules are erratic. My job is in politics means there are often several nights out of the week that I have speaking events and fundraisers that make it impossible to eat together. Likewise my husbands schedule often means that we must take turns in the evening with spending time with out son. We have learned to adapt to make our family strong. Not everyone can eat dinner together every night, but it is the time spent together that is what makes a difference in raising a strong and loving family.

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