Marya Caristi

While we were in the trenches raising our kids, I would often scoff at parenting “studies.” Most just affirmed what any parent with an iota of common sense already knew. However, now that my kids are self-sufficient adults, I often look back at our life as if it were its own study of sorts. It’s interesting and sometimes rewarding to see how our priorities and values have impacted their lives as adults.

I recently came across an article that cited scientifically proven reasons to eat dinner as a family. Taking a deeper dive showed that this subject has been studied and written up in mediums from mommy blogs to prestigious medical journals.

Eating dinner as a family was a priority for my husband and I while raising our kids. Staying committed wasn’t easy or convenient. Work, school, activities and, in the teen years, a social life that was more important than family life would sometimes clash.

It often took compromising, coaxing and/or coercing, but most dinners were shared as a family. Granted, they didn’t all look the same. Some evenings we were able to engage in lively discussion and linger in the dining room for hours while enjoying a beautifully prepared and presented meal. Others were the four of us crouched over the kitchen peninsula scarfing down whatever had been tossed in the crockpot while the boys studied or did homework after a chaotic day of activities. Often, at least one of the boys’ friends would join us. We didn’t mind as long as they took part in all aspects of the dinner.

Splitting responsibilities was as much a part of that as the meal itself. There was an intricate mental flow chart to ensure everyone contributed. Whoever did most of the cooking didn’t have to clean. The salad maker was exempt from feeding the dog. And the person who set the table would load the dishwasher while someone else washed the pots and pans.

As the boys got older and schedules became more crazed, we would reserve one night a week to go to a restaurant. Once a decision was made as to where to eat (an exercise in negotiating that often took longer than the meal itself), it was an opportunity to unwind, relax and catch up without the pressure of the post-dinner chores. That helped them learn to appreciate the role hospitality workers played in their quality of life. And that a job well done should be complimented and compensated.

Just as the home dinners looked different, so did the nights out. There were times that a quick service joint fit time and financial constraints, and others when we were able to splurge a little. Most outings, like their attitudes, were something in between. Those were important lessons in balance and budgeting.

But still, it surprised me last week when I received a group text from my sons. They were both coming home to spend their 24th birthday with us. Their visits home over the last year have been short and not all that sweet. By the time they would catch the train out and get home to the Cape we would have roughly 20 hours of awake time to catch up and visit with them. We learned to adopt a no-plans, no-pressure policy for those visits. I expected more of the same.

Instead, they texted with a simple gift request. They wanted to enjoy an evening out somewhere that everyone could relax with cocktails and dinner and in their words, “Just sit and talk.” The guest list was to only include our family of four and one of the boys’ longtime girlfriends.

It was a full circle moment in which my husband and I realized that despite the finagling and inconvenience that sometimes accompanied those meals, they were a positive memory for our sons in adulthood. The conversation and hours just flowed one into the next. It was as much a gift to my husband and me as it was to the boys.

Consider this food for thought from a decades-long study for any family who wonders, “Is it worth the hassle?” Yes, yes, it is.

Ms. Caristi is a small-business owner and empty nester. She, her husband, Jason, and spoiled rotten yellow Lab, Moo, live in East Sandwich.

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