Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Home-Cooked Meal

Family Time

An article  by G. Murphy Donovan in the New English Review says something so obvious that it has been  ignored in the digital age where electronic gadgetry acts as both nanny and teacher, often replacing the role that parents once held. We are talking here about the family meal, a time often dreaded by both parents and children.

Even so, families that eat together regularly can teach their children how to become better, more involved citizens. The kitchen, often the most-neglected room in the house, can serve as a training ground to raise culturally mature and well-behaved children:
The penultimate virtue of cooking and dining at home is education. Yes, education; not just about food and nutrition, but education about everything else under the sun. Parents are the first and best primary teachers. Some formal schooling might be necessary for a diploma or a credential, but those critical early years are only a job for the deuce that produced.
All learning begins with the process of separating wants from needs – moving from me to thee. With this, all kids need help; that’s why we call them children. True home schooling might be something simple as an hour at the market, an afternoon in the garden, and a meal together, once or twice a day.By the time kids reach their teens, all that parents have left is influence once or twice removed. If those early opportunities are missed, we waste our lives and damage theirs. Kitchen and dinner tables are the earliest and best school desks to educate and socialize children. If we’re too busy for this, we have to ask ourselves; what’s more important? If parents have no answers, those ‘at risk’ monsters should not be a surprise. ‘At risk’ kids are surely the sons and daughters of clueless and neglect.
Every parent assumes that a child might learn to behave from good example, but few consider that kids are just as likely to be influenced by poor role models – at home. Parallel epidemics of electronic autism, childhood obesity, hyperactivity, and attention deficit disorders might not be entirely coincidental or unrelated. Sometimes the most obvious solution hides in plain sight. How hard is it to say: “Turn the damn thing off, eat your chicken soup, and sit there; talk or listen until you’re excused?” If the food is good and the table manners are crystal clear, family dinning is a nourishing ritual for body and soul.
The process of education, as Socrates noted over two millennia ago, is simply a dialogue; one or more civil people exchanging embarrassing questions. Ideas are thought to be contagious in a congenial setting; a place like the dinner table, where the participants are fed well and therefore well bred.
Such arguments might sound to some individuals as elitist and a call to return to '50s America, or an attack on women's liberation  but they are neither. They are in fact reasonable and democratic and allow parents to transmit proper values to their children, most of whom are eager to learn; of course that only works if the parents themselves have an idea of what values they want their children to consider and follow.

I would think that kindness, consideration, respect and good listening abilities would be on every parent's list. Bringing up children who will become healthy contributors to society requires more than feeding them on demand. That's not only poor or lazy parenting, it's a losing proposition all around.

You can read the rest of the article at [New English Review]