In his second inauguration speech, President Obama lauded personal responsibility and called upon us to take responsibility for each other and for posterity. Shared responsibility requires rootedness and deep connection within our communities. No community is more integral to our lives or more important to the formation of our values than the family. In my novel In Leah’s Wake the collapse of community-social marginalization combined with de facto isolation within the family-leads to the Tylers’ implosion.
In our hyper-competitive, fast-moving world, even the most caring, responsible families sometimes find themselves stretched to the seams, family members running in different directions, passing one another in the night. As tempting as it may be to simply drop out of the rat race, that’s hardly feasible and, even if it were, not necessarily desirable. If we hope to reach our goals, there are things that have to be done.
Given our myriad commitments, how do we carve out time and space to connect in meaningful ways?
One possibility is by making time-maybe not every night, but on some regular basis-for family dinners. When I was growing up, although family dinner was important, my father traveled extensively, making regular evening dinners impossible. Every Sunday, though, until I was fourteen and my parents, brother, sisters and I moved out of state, we and the rest of my father’s big Italian family gathered at my grandmother’s house. The men would play cards or bocce or morra, an Italian hand game that reminded me of paper, scissors, rock. Inside, the women would fill the animated kitchen, cooking, cleaning, doing the dishes, talking, talking, talking. We kids, meanwhile, would be running around outside, playing kickball, or inside, usually playing school. On those lazy Sunday afternoons we formed relationships that would last a lifetime and give us a sense of meaning and identity that we’d pass to future generations.
As parents, Dave and I have tried our best, not always successfully, to carry on the family dinner tradition. Today, our daughters live in different states-Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maryland, and California. We can’t be in four places at once, of course, but we spend family time together as often as possible. When KK, our youngest, lost her boyfriend last fall, all three of her sisters took time from their busy life and went to considerable expense to travel from the East Coast to be with her in California. I’d like to believe it was a foundation of togetherness-years of family dinners-that created their bond.
Does your family enjoy dinners together? We’d love to hear your story!