Why do so few understand the cause of the generation gap? It is time we took a look at the breakdown in family meal — togetherness and asked ourselves how to rebuild and happy family.
Does it make any difference if the members of your family eat one at a time or together? Or if they eat in front of the television set? Is there more to mealtime than just eating? These are questions most people seldom think about. Little do most families realize how mealtime is linked with one of the big problems of our age — the generation gap.
Primary Cause of Generation Gap
Today the reality of a generation gap stares society in the face. Many parents frankly confess that they do not know their own children. They are like strangers. And this gap seems to have happened overnight. Parents appear to be close to their little children. But with the advent of teenage something tragic happens. Communication breaks down. Alienation begins. Thus a generation of children has commonly become at odds with its own parents! Why? Examine your own situation. When does your whole family — every member — get together and talk — really have a good conversation and family communication? Chances are — seldom, if ever. You know how it is. Everyone is busy. All the members of the family are involved in various activities in this fast-moving society of ours. Then, of course, there is TV. "Pipe down" is the expression used when someone tries to talk during a program. One might get to say a few words during the commercial — unless it, too, is entertaining. With school, work, play, TV and other activities — is it any wonder members of a family can seldom be together at the same time — EXCEPT FOR MEALS — ESPECIALLY THE EVENING MEAL? This is why mealtime is so important at your home!
Importance of the Evening Meal
Most parents today are working feverishly to provide the best for their children. They want to give them happiness and security. They consequently spend their time and energy in the acquisition of material possessions. Little time or energy is spent to provide for the family's spiritual and emotional needs. In the average home, fewer and fewer meals are eaten together. In many families certain members eat no breakfast at all. In any case, the morning rush provides little time for family dining. And lunch is eaten by each member of the family separately. Dad eats lunch on the job. The children eat lunch at school. And Mom perhaps at home with the babies or at work. Breakfast and lunch provide little, if any, family fellowship. Usually there is only one time during the day when the entire family can be together. This is the evening meal. And mealtime ought to be family time. But what do we see? A trend toward the no-cook eat in front of-the-TV idea. In every city, main boulevards are ablaze with signs beckoning the customer to stop in and carry out a quick, already prepared TV meal. Our whole society seems geared to the eat-on-the-run syndrome. Snack shops, sandwich stands, drive-in restaurants have greatly proliferated. A trend is evolving in our society where people are just growing up without any importance placed on family dinner. Yet in many countries and among certain ethnic groups it is considered essential that all the family be seated at the dinner table together. Here a meal represents far more than just food and nutrition to the body. It is a time for family communion — fellowship, conversation and enjoyment. Is it this way in your home? Do you have each and every member of your family gathered together at mealtime? This is such a simple task, but one of great importance. Why pass up the opportunity to gather your entire family — the most beloved people to you — around you in an atmosphere of love? The sharing of food has always connoted the sharing of love. A pleasant dinner has always been the highlight of a special date. A banquet is given in the festive atmosphere of a wedding. Sharing food together is a sure way to increase the bonds between people. Psychologists have found that the old adage is true, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach." People are more receptive, more amiable over a pleasant meal. Even in the Bible the sharing of food is considered the pinnacle of intimate fellowship. Before his crucifixion, Jesus gathered his disciples around him for the "last supper." He said, "With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15).
What is the atmosphere around the dinner table in your home? Is it pleasant? In too many cases it is not. It is accompanied by problems, harsh talk, arguments, unpleasant subjects, bad manners, gossip, and parent-child oppositions. In many households, especially in America, meals are an unpleasant experience. They are served with the television blaring, children fussing — a disturbing, unsettled atmosphere. Dining is becoming a lost art. The many benefits that should be derived from pleasant, happy family meals are too often missing. Many families eat on the run. It is not unusual for the dining table to be turned into a cafeteria as members of the family eat on a come-and-go basis. In a growing number of cases, arguments are precipitated by one member or another. This has a great unsettling effect and is not only damaging psychologically but is also physically abusive to the body. The digestive tract is directly affected by the emotions. An emotional upset nullifies the appetite. In times of stress one seldom thinks of food. When the atmosphere is pleasant and food is being enjoyed, there is also an increase in the secretion of saliva and of digestive juices in the stomach. Both of these effects promote better digestion of the food eaten. If arguments occur or tempers flare at mealtime, digestion is impaired. Food taken into the body at these times finds its way into the intestinal tract without proper digestion. Here the food putrefies, contributing to gas and various toxins rather than good nutrition. This provides a base for many common illnesses.
Make Mealtime Profitable
Authorities have long recognized the importance of mealtime. A noted nutritionist, for example, wrote: "In the life of a family the potentialities of mealtimes are unlimited. Often they are the only times of the day when the families are all together. For parents, they are times to teach good food habits by practicing them as well as preaching them; to learn to know the character and needs of each child; to stimulate interest in learning through a studied choice of topics for conversation at the table; and, since mealtime is a good time to relate the happenings of the day and boast of small triumphs, to give praise for tasks well done. "Perhaps even more valuable than these opportunities are the rich possibilities mealtimes offer for the social and emotional development of children. They are times to help children learn socially acceptable behavior, develop good personality traits and social poise, practice restraint through refraining from eating until all have been served, and show respect and concern for the feelings of others through the use of good table manners and the avoidance of conversational topics that may offend. "Finally, mealtime offers opportunities to give children responsibilities, somewhat akin to the chores of another generation, that not only aid in the development of manipulative skills but, even more important, give children status in the family. Perhaps those who think this sounds fantastic should be reminded that we eat three meals daily, lasting from ten minutes to an hour, 365 days each year, and that most children live at home for the first seventeen years of their lives or longer" (Meal Management, by Faye Kinder, pages 2-3). Mealtime is an excellent opportunity to teach children proper etiquette. You'll be glad you did when you take them out to dinner or restaurant dining. Ill-mannered children are annoying and embarrassing in a restaurant. Nervous parents nagging at their offspring are out of place in the serene atmosphere created by most restaurants. Besides, children who learn proper manners at home are more at ease socially. They develop confidence in meeting and being in the presence of others. This confidence aids the development of the whole personality.
Tips for the Home
Here are some tips on teaching manners in the home. First, parents should learn how to instruct and correct children at dinner. Never nag at children over dinner in order to get them to use proper manners. But instead, make a game situation out of learning proper manners, and the children will take to it readily. Second, don't confuse your children by giving them all the rules of etiquette at one time. Teach them one or two rules. Let them concentrate on practicing these rules until they form a proper habit. For instance, you might instruct your children on the use of the dinnerware — how to hold each piece properly. Teach them — giving instructions prior to mealtime. Then, at mealtime give praise for doing it right. Of course, Mom and Dad should set the right example. This phase of etiquette can be worked on for quite a while. Then go on to another area.
Dad's Place at the Dinner Table
A wise man once wrote, "Wherever Dad sits is the head of the table." How true. Perhaps the family meal means more to the father than to anyone else. It gives him a chance to have his whole family gathered around him. Here is his opportunity to set the example of stability and masculinity children can look to. They see what it means to be the head of the household. He can and should direct the conversation to make it pleasant and uplifting. He should be sure topics of conversation will be of interest to the whole family. Here is his opportunity to become more personally acquainted with his children and to let them know him better as well. Here's how to bridge the generation gap! And make it pleasant, relaxing and profitable too! Dad can let the children know more about his work. They could discuss their schoolwork — activities, sports, recreation. Or they could discuss a family outing — next summer's vacation, summer work for the teenagers, etc. There are scores of subjects for pleasant mealtime conversation. But it is important to make sure the conversation is pleasant. It is also important that there be order and not confusion at the dinner table. Here is where father can exercise proper authority — keeping order and directing the conversation. He must not allow unpleasant topics or controversial matters to come up at the table. He must put a stop to all argument! Mealtime should be a pleasant experience filled with goodwill. This promotes family closeness and love.
Mealtime is Mother's time to shine. Here is her chance to express creativity. When analyzed, it is apparent that a complete dinner — prepared and served — is akin to an engineering project! It must be planned in advance, then each portion skillfully done so that all phases are completed in a coordinated manner. In other words, soup, salad, meat, vegetables, bread or rolls, beverages and dessert must be ready to serve at the proper time. Add to this the infinite variety of ways one can decorate a table and you truly have a masterpiece. A table setting can be a work of art in itself. It should be color-coordinated. Flower arrangements can be used to brighten and enliven the table setting. These in themselves are an expression of artistic endeavor. "The table is the point for family reunion twice or three times a day, and nothing should be lacking that we can do to make those meetings pleasant and cheerful. No decoration will suffice to cover untidy napery, dim glass, or only partly clean silver. All details must be looked to, and then a perfect whole may be expected. This advice taken from an English Penny Weekly dated 1896, has lost none of its validity." (From the book Table Settings, Entertaining, and Etiquette by Patricia E. Roberts, page 54) Remember this quote from Good Housekeeping magazine: "The essential ingredient in every successful meal — the love you put into the planning and preparing of it." All housewives should realize that the table setting and the way in which the food is served have an important psychological effect on the person eating. Food appearance and table appearance can actually make the dish appear tastier and more palatable. It would do housewives good to study proper and improper photographs of table and food settings in cookbooks. You don't necessarily need expensive food, dishes, or decorations to make an attractive table. There are place settings in many different price ranges — all can be used to good advantage. Just one rose, or flowers from your yard or garden can add immeasurably to your table setting. Even on a picnic — using paper plates, paper cups and plastic dinnerware — the table setting can be very attractive and pleasing, adding much to the enjoyment of the meal. But the wife may complain, "What's the use of setting an attractive table when my husband doesn't come home on time? The children and I just eat by ourselves." In many homes this is true. But it is still good for the wife and the children to eat at a pleasant and attractive table. However the considerate husband will try to be home at a regularly scheduled time, or call his wife if he will be a little late. This will greatly encourage her in her efforts in meal preparation and table setting.
Prayer of Appreciation
The finest way to start off the meal is to pause and take time to be thankful. Today people seem to forget that everything we eat comes from the ground. And that it takes rain and sunshine to make it grow. Even animal products are dependent upon the vegetation that comes from the ground. There is One who made this earth and who provides the rain and sunshine. It is good to pause and give thanks to Almighty God for the food we eat, for our health and safety, for our home and for each member of our family. If the father of the family would have the courage and leadership and humility to set this right example of strength, he would gain much more of the love and admiration of his family — not only immediately but for years to come. We generally tend to be the same kind of parents to our children that our parents were to us. And our children will grow up to be the way they have been taught through our rearing. It is up to us today to give our children a home life of stability — of warmth, comfort, security, closeness and love. There is no better place to start than at the dinner table. Begin to make mealtime profitable. Reap the benefits that come to the family that eats together!