This article orignally appeared in The Herald-News, September 2014.


Though students have been in school for over two months, I've only recently returned to the classroom.  It does take some time to get readjusted to teaching, just as our students take time to get back into the routine of class, homework, sports practices and games.  It is a lot to balance.  Sometimes I wonder if it is actually too much to work through.

Growing up, my parents had a rule.  One after school program/event.  My parents, with four kids, knew they couldn't handle running kid A here, get kid C to this on time, feed kid B dinner and make sure kid D just survives.  So I had to make choices.  I had to figure out what was really important to me. 

As I've been in the schools more, I've realized that many parents spend all their time running from here to there.  Their calendars are full with games and practices and rehearsals and recitals.  Dinner is no longer a family event around a table, but a free for all, often culminating in a trip through various drive-thrus.  Saturdays are spent traveling with elite sports teams composed of the best athletes in the area.

I can't help but to wonder if this is helping, or harming, our families.  Don't get me wrong.  I understand the benefit of team sports, and taking time to develop the talents we have.  But I can't help but wonder if it is worth the cost.

I have two children.  My daughter just turned five, and my son is in the throes of the terrible twos.  My husband keeps a very busy schedule between a full time job, a college coaching position and another part-time job.  Fortunately, most of his commitments are local and we get to join him on many occasions.  But earlier this week, as we sat and enjoyed our fast food during a soccer game, I dreaded the trip home to put the kids to bed.  Because they were off their schedule.

The more variety we have throughout the week, the more problems we have with our children's behavior.  I've tried to figure out what it is exactly that makes the difference.  Is it the fact that we are away from home?  Is it the fact that bedtime is later?  Or is it the fact that we are missing certain aspects of our family life that cause our children to thrive?

I'm speaking of my family personally.  I can't say it is true for everyone, and obviously it will be different for older children.  But my kids crave a meal together around the kitchen table.  They like to set the table and help with dishes.  They want me to ask about their adventures of the day.  They even ask about mine.  I know, I know.  I should enjoy it now before they get older and things change.  But do they have to?

According to the Family Dinner Project, recent studies have found that regular family dinners are linked to many positive behaviors such as "lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents." Did you catch all that?  Just an hour together around a meal builds huge assets in our youth! What other ways can we spend an hour and get such positive results?

It isn't so much the food that makes the difference.  I think we can see these results with fast food, or one of my children's favorites, breakfast for dinner.  I think what makes the difference is the fact that for just a few minutes, our children have our attention.  For a few minutes, we are focused on them.  We are looking in their eyes, not the rearview mirror.  We can have a real conversation, rather than talking over the radio.  That matters.

Every day, I see my students drag through the classroom doors, often carrying different bags for each activity.  They are tired and weary. Despite enjoying the sports and activities they participate in, I bet they would enjoy even one night at home. I'm not saying we should stop the sports or other things, but I do think it is important to stop, at least for a few moments.  We need to stop and look at our children in front of us, because it isn't going to be too long until they are adults.

 

I can share more on this later, but the kids have somewhere to be tonight. I just have to remember where.