I was having dinner recently with a family that I knew from a previous assignment. I related to them that I write a column each week for my parish. They suggested that I develop this week’s topic: sitting around the dinner table together (and all of its implications).
There was a time when the family meal in many homes was a sacred time. It was where and when the family would not only eat together, but also share what was happening in their lives (“What did you do today?” or “What happened in school today?”), learn some basis communication skills, (say “please” and “thank you” and “Wait until your brother/sister is finished speaking before you talk”), pray together (grace before and after meals minimally), and simply spend quality time with each other. Often, Sunday meals were a time with the extended family and friends.
Things have certainly changed! Today there are frequently split shifts in the home where a meal is from the microwave oven or the nearby fast-food establishment, children (and even some adults) sit around the table playing their hand-held games, listening to their iPods, talking or texting on their smart phones, the flat screen TV might be on in the background, and there is little or no actual quality conversation taking place. Social skills and person to person communication now give way to all forms of social networking.
Technology can be a wonderful thing, but not when it takes the place of the necessary interactions with the human person. (We have all had the frustrating experience of the automated telephone response when wanting to speak to an actual human being!)
The bottom line is: communication skills and the art of conversation have become lost arts! (Try getting some young persons to look you in the eyes and say “hello.” It can be a frustrating experience at times.) Additionally, regular family time around the dinner table has frequently lessened or disappeared in too many homes. There’s soccer and basketball practice, dance, piano lessons, etc., etc., that all suck up much family time and energy!
I even think our current life-style patterns have eroded the time that we should spend around the Table of the Lord for the most important meal—the Mass—which we should be attending as a family each week!
May I suggest that each family take the time to evaluate their own situation to see if what I have said applies? If so, then why not take a few concrete steps to prioritize family time around the dinner table? Turn the TV’s off, put the smart phones away, have a meal together, look at each other and talk to each other!
I feel very sad even having to write what I just did.
Fr. Ed Namiotka