When Adam and I first started dating in college, we spent hours talking. We talked about our dream jobs, our friends from home, our favorite ice cream flavor, our families and how we grew up. Through these conversations we found that we were pretty different.
Adam knew what he wanted to do. I still wasn’t completely sure.
Some of Adams friends went to college. Some went straight to work. Some were in the military. I didn’t have one friend who didn’t go to college and many were on the path to grad school.
Plain old vanilla for him. Mint chocolate chip for me.
His parents had been together since before high school and he had two older sisters and a brother less than two years younger then him. My parents met in Business School and I was the oldest with seven years spanning between myself and my youngest sibling.
He grew up in a small town on a lot of land. I grew up in a bunch of different towns, but spent most of my childhood in a very suburban city on a golf course.
His family vacationed in Florida every year. My family never went to the same place twice.
In the summer, his family liked to go to lakes in Indiana and go boating. My family spent summers on Lake Michigan and would park it on the beach.
Adam’s parents were much more leangient when it came to curfews, girls, and grades. Mine… were pretty strict.
But, one of the things we did find that we had in common was our family’s would eat dinner together almost every night of the week. Even with multiple kids, jobs, practice, homework and more, dinner as a family at the table was important. And, we both liked it.
It may seem simple, but this value that Adam had made him all the more attractive because it was something I valued too.
But, it turns out that eating around the table is anything but simple… for anyone.
It’s not just impactful for Adam and I, but it actually has a huge impact on children and families around the country.
Hillbilly Elegy is a quicker read. It’s a memoir by JD Vance, who is our age and from Ohio. His story about growing up in a tumultuous, self proclaimed “hillbilly” family is pretty captivating. It made us sad, inspired and, at times, made us both laugh out loud.
Our Kids is full of stories of families near poverty and families that are better off, but live in the same areas. Or, at least nearby. It’s a bit more analytical and is full of scissors graphs telling the story of how wide the gap has gotten between these groups over the years in terms of education, opportunities and upward mobility.
But, one thing that both of these books hit on was the importance of dinner as a family at a table.
JD tells stories of the many men that came in and out of his mother’s life and how she wasn’t the most stable parent. But, of the times where things felt most secure- maybe it was because he lived with his grandparents, was visiting an uncle, or the guy his mom was dating was in fact, a pretty decent man- there was always a family dinner.
Our Kids spends a whole section of a chapter on the trends of family dinners over the last 40 years. The author compares families with college educated parents vs. high school educated parents with the dining as a family gap widening significantly starting in the 1990s. This graph is highly correlated to the social and cognitive development of children from the same kind of families.
I have always felt like there is something to say about dinner as a family that is more than just food. I even would say that getting families around the table often can change the world. I have written about this thought here and mentioned it in conversations.
Now, with these graphs and stories on top of my own experience, I know both of these things to be true. It’s not just about eating food. When a family eats dinner together consistently there is nurturing, structure, security, and dialogue that might otherwise not happen. When children are raised in this kind of environment, they thrive. They learn so much and have meaningful conversations. They gain confidence and grit. All of this will make them able, strong and successful as adults.
When I am asked why I love food so much, I am typically quick to respond with something about my love “gathering around the table.”
I love it when my dining room table is full. (Which is easy to do… We are going to need a bigger table someday!)
I love being at my friend’s and family’s table.
I work for sorority and fraternity food service and nothing makes me happier than seeing full tables in a chapter dining room.
I love that Adam and I take the time to sit at the table together every night even though it’s just the two of us after Theo has gone to bed.
And, I know that this love- combined with our values and the bit of evidence from these books on family dinners- means that gathering together around the table is something that will be a priority. Even on the days when it feels like everything I do is getting a C, (… a real feeling somedays) there will be a strong effort to have dinner as a family.
It may not happen everyday. And, even with the best intentions, it likely won’t be perfect.
But, because of the positive impact on our children and the joy both Adam and I get by eating as a family, gathering around the table as a family to a meal is something we will strive to do for the rest of our lives.
Food gives us this unique platform to help shape our homes, our love, our kids and the future. I love that about food.