Archive for the Category » Parenting and Child Development «

Saturday, December 10th, 2011 | Author: mjward

The sight is not unusual in India. You see a modest-sized motorcycle – not one of your Hogs – weaving in and out of city traffic, passing a bicycle rickshaw here, getting out of the way of a bus there, then squeezing between two cars, swerving around a cow or an inattentive pedestrian. All the while the driver is honking his horn. Perched behind him is his wife, riding side saddle, her sari fluttering in the breeze. In her arms she holds a baby. An older child is perched in front of the driver and a third clings to her mother’s back. If anyone is wearing a helmet, it is the father. 

Then I think of North America’s seat-belt laws and child safety seats within the protective shell of an automobile. I think of children wearing bicycle helmets. India seems such a different world, so careless of its women. Especially careless of the young. Yet you see parents cuddling a baby and playing with a toddler. And you know that they love and value their children.

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011 | Author: mjward

Do you remember playing sexual exploration games when you were a child? I do. Many were of the type “if you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.” At what point does normal curiosity become abuse? For many years, as the awareness of father-daughter incest grew, sexual abuse by siblings was under the radar. Even now, it still does not raise the same concern as the former, though it is in fact probably more common.

Most research and discussion on sibling abuse has used a deficit model focused on problems within families rather than on their strengths. Professionals discuss sibling incest as part of a family pattern of abuse and neglect. Often there is a sexualized atmosphere in the family. Perhaps parents engage in sexual activity in front of their children or perhaps they have extramarital affairs. Children are more likely to witness such acts or to have access to pornography if living quarters are cramped. Some parents give older children too much responsibility for the care of younger siblings. Often such a child assumes authority over younger siblings and even cares for parents, but has undeveloped social skills and may exercise power through violence and intimidation. Sexual abuse of younger siblings can be one expression of this power. Abuse occurs more often if children are neglected or have insufficient supervision. Neglect, in turn, may bring inadequate upbringing, including a lack of or inappropriate sex education. Most of these factors are made worse if parents feel overwhelmed.

Marsha L. Heiman’s 1988 paper in Bank and Lewis’ book Siblings in Therapy sets out four preconditions for sibling incest. First, the brother or sister must want to be abusive. This factor includes sexual arousal, poor social skills in filling the desire in appropriate ways, and poor understanding of sexuality. Second, the abuser must overcome inhibitions, which include social taboos against sexual relations with close family members. In adoption, foster care and stepfamilies, children without a biological relationship or common history are thrust together. Thus the taboo might not operate in respect to the new sibling. Third, the child must overcome outside barriers such as close supervision. If parents are unsuspecting or do not care, they may not be watchful. Finally, the abuser needs to overcome the victim’s resistance through bribes, threats, or other forms of force.

Most interventions and therapies rely on the deficit view of the family. However, such an approach is not appropriate for many families that are otherwise pretty healthy. This includes adoptive or foster ones. Many families have weak points in recognizing sibling sexual abuse. Some have an “it can’t happen in our family” belief. They may not be aware of the physical and behavioral signs that abuse might be occurring. Or they may be unsure of the border between normal exploration and play and sexual abuse. Adoptive parents I interviewed were told only after their new son had molested two cousins that he had been sexually abused by his father. His foster mother said he hadn’t shown inappropriate sexual behavior in her home, though she had needed to stop him from aggressively tickling another child. His adoptive mother was certain in hindsight that the tickling had been sexually motivated. Third, parents are worried about the repercussions of reporting suspected sibling abuse. They fear, often realistically, that their family may be broken up by the authorities. A therapy model that looks at family weaknesses rather than family strengths is further inhibiting because parents believe they are blamed for their children’s actions.

What then can be done to prevent sibling sexual abuse and to help families when such abuse occurs?

Knowledge is the first line of defense. Parents need education in the signs that abuse may be occurring. It may be difficult to distinguish emotional reactions to abuse from changes in behavior that result from the family upheaval following the adoptive or foster placement of an older child or following the formation of a stepfamily. Parents also need to know how to prevent sexual abuse from occurring. A pamphlet on parenting the sexually abused child, published a number of years ago by the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse provides guidelines. Some precautions are common sense. Privacy in bedrooms and bathrooms should be enforced. If children share rooms, then boys and girls should not be in each others’. Public nakedness or near-nakedness should be discouraged for both parents and children. Suggestive or obscene language needs to be vetoed. Aggressive wrestling or tickling may have sexual overtones. Children should receive appropriate sex education. They also need to learn to differentiate between feelings and behavior.

If sibling sexual abuse occurs in spite of education and parents’ preventive efforts, interventions should draw on the strengths of the family, rather than looking for weaknesses. All family members need support, parents and children, victims and offenders alike. Blame should be kept to the minimum, with a focus on what actions need to take place. First, it is important to ensure the safety of all the children in the family, including the one who has offended. Reporting to authorities must occur as legally mandated. If feasible, the family should be preserved. A conference of the family and support individuals, including agency personnel, relatives, and friends, may come up with creative solutions. For example, the offending child may be placed with a relative or in a care facility without severing ties with his or her family. Such an arrangement does not preclude reintegration into the family, if circumstances change. Whatever the solution, the family needs to be vitally involved. There are, of course, no easy answers.

Sources:

 

Caffaro, J. (2011). Sibling violence and systems-oriented therapy. In J. Caspi (Ed.), Sibling development: Implications for mental health practitioners (pp. 245-272). New York: Springer.

Heiman, M. L. (1998). Untangling incestuous bonds: The treatment of sibling incest. In M. D. Kahn & K. G. Lewis (Eds.). Siblings in therapy: Life span and clinical issues (pp. 135-166). New York: W. W. Norton.

Narimanian, R., & Rosenzweig, J. (n.d.). Parenting the sexually abused child. Washington, DC: National Adoption Information Clearinghouse.

National Clearinghouse on Family Violence. (n.d.). Sibling sexual abuse: A guide for parents. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada.

Wiehe, V. R. (2002). What parents need to know about sibling abuse: Breaking the cycle of violence. Springville, UT: Bonneville Books.

Saturday, April 02nd, 2011 | Author: mjward

It’s what I always wanted to be–a mother. And I knew I was going to be a good one. Through some kind of osmosis, I had absorbed the image of what she was like. Without even thinking about it, I knew she fostered the best in her children. She protected them from harm and kept them safe. She was patient, nurturing, warm, and gentle. She guided rather than punished, so that her children might in their turn make their valuable contribution to society. Oh yes, she also “did for” her children, cooking, cleaning, sewing. She, and all the world, would know what a good mother she was because her children would be a credit to her. Although the details of the picture were hazy, I saw her with an aura around her as she gathered her loving and beloved children into her nurturing arms.

I tried to be a good mother, I really tried. I think I even succeeded to some degree following the birth of three children in close succession and then the adoption of a baby. But then my fairy tale was shattered. We adopted a sibling group of five boys aged five to thirteen and, two years later, eight- and twelve-year-old sisters.

I wasn’t able to protect my children. One of our new sons was incensed at the whole world and verbally and physically attacked other children in the family. He gave one brother a concussion; there were numerous other incidents. I couldn’t even protect him. Someone, never found by the police, beat him up so badly we didn’t recognize him in hospital emergency. Another of my boys, thanks to an ill-advised experiment, had his shotgun explode in his hands. He still carries the physical scars. Some of my children carry invisible scars to this day from the verbal abuse and various cruelties that others heaped on them behind my back.

My children gave signs they weren’t going to be the paragons I planned to raise. Two never completed high school. Another two seemed determined never to find gainful work and to live on the generosity of society and the welfare system. We survived other episodes when the children were younger. The two youngest, for example, sneaked out of the house one night and were caught trying to set fire to the gas tank of our neighbor’s car. I spent many days in court with one of my sons as he faced charges of theft and vandalism. No, my children were not much of a credit to my parenting.

I tried to do everything for them–cook, mend, wash clothes, supervise homework, chauffeur to activities, go to parents’ night at the school–everything. I nearly burned out. I couldn’t even “do for” my children. I was too exhausted to be patient, kind, and warmly nurturing. In fact, I had to devise an on-going schedule of chores for all of them in order to get even the minimum housework done. So I fell short on the caregiving too.

There was a final failure that it took a long time to admit. I couldn’t say for sure I loved all my children; I certainly didn’t like some of them very well.

Out of the crucible of failure, however, I eventually distilled a new image of the good mother.

A mother who is worth her salt, I believe, is committed to each of her children. She doesn’t have to like them or even love them, though that helps, but she must be steadfast in her devotion to their welfare. When their various needs conflict, she tries to balance her commitment to each of them, difficult though that is, as she attempts to work out the greatest equity possible. If it means sitting in hospital emergency with an injured child or going to court with a delinquent, then she is there, but only after she is assured the others will be cared for. Yet there must be a limit to this commitment: it mustn’t be so single-minded that the family, or she herself, is destroyed.

She provides her children with opportunities for growth. It means allowing them to take increasingly greater responsibility for themselves and others, and the chance to mess up. It involves exposing them to options they never before considered and opening the world to them. It also includes therapeutic nurturing for those who have had traumatic experiences. Adopted children have been wounded to their vitals through separation from those who would, in the normal way, have nurtured them. They need healing. In our family, so did our initial four. By adopting acting-out children whom we expected them to regard as brothers and sisters, we had laid on them a burden of pain. It also means that a mother remembers that her children may choose not to profit from the opportunities afforded them.

A good mother recognizes her own limitations. She doesn’t expect herself to do the impossible, but does what she can with her physical, emotional, and intellectual resources. She understands that, in spite of her most diligent efforts, she cannot always keep them from harm. She allows others–spouse, friends, relatives, therapists–to help her care for her children. She also sets limits on her children’s behavior. For example, she may choose not to talk with them when they are drunk, saving discussion for sober times. She tries not to feel guilty for failing to live up to the romantic mother image.

She fosters the sense of herself as an individual and looks for opportunities for her personal growth and enrichment. She nurtures her own relationships and allows herself to be cared for when she needs it. That is, she is both a needy child and her own good parent. For how can her children learn about self-esteem and healthy relationships if she doesn’t show the way?

Finally, a good mother lets her children go. She does not claim their accomplishments for her own credit. Rather, she rejoices in even small steps they make. It is a milestone when one of them graduates from college. It may be as great an achievement for another to be alive, if most of her biological brothers and sisters are dead. It is cause for celebration when a man of thirty finally, after years of drifting from one nothing job to another punctuated with spells on welfare, phones to say he has just got his mechanic’s papers. Or when a daughter, in her turn, cradles a baby. A good mother enjoys without recrimination the adults her children have become, wonderful and flawed as they are. As she herself is.

(Revised 2006, 2011)

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 | Author: mjward

Is it better or not for stepchildren to be adopted by their stepparents? Researchers recently compared adopted and non-adopted stepchildren with children growing up in other family types. They conducted a large survey of children up to the age of seventeen who lived in married-couple households which included two biological parents, two adoptive parents, and one biological and one stepparent. They compared adopted and non-adopted children with each other and with those in other married-family types.

The most important finding was that there was quite little difference among the children. All were similar as to school achievement. Children who did not live with two biological parents did have more emotional and behavior problems. None, however, scored in the clinical range. The authors of the study believe that this shows the basic ability of children to adapt to the families they are in.

A more detailed comparison shows that young adopted stepchildren’s families are most similar to biological two-parent families. Older adopted step-children are most like non-adopted stepchildren. The authors speculate that these resemblances may be the result of the age of the child at adoption and/or the length of time between formation of the stepfamily and the adoption. They also caution against lumping together all adopted children because there are differences between those adopted by unrelated parents and by a stepparent.

School performance and emotional and behavioral problems aren’t the only aspects of family life. A whole view would consider relationships between parents and children, between siblings, and with community members. The security provided by adoption may, in the long term, also affect the well-being of children. All families have their strengths and weaknesses. Rather than looking at which families do better, it is more useful to look at the strengths of the various family forms and their challenges. That way, each family can be encouraged to build on its strengths.

 

Source:Stewart, S. D. (2010). The characteristics and well-being of adopted stepchildren. Family Relations, 59, 558-571.

Thursday, December 09th, 2010 | Author: mjward

It is commonly held that coming from a “good” family helps young people lead successful lives. This idea is particularly true when parents are authoritative, that is, when they set standards for their children, but are flexible in recognizing their children’s individual needs. Such parents care what their children do but they also pay attention to their children’s strengths, weaknesses, and desires. Frequent encouraging communication by parents can increase a student’s competence and success in school.

A study based on two large-scale surveys in the United States did find that students performed better in high school when they had a warm relationship with their parents. Because their marks were higher, they were more likely to be accepted into a good college that suited their needs.

The researchers, however, were surprised at one group of students. These were close to their families and had high marks. Yet they were reluctant to leave home. Thus they applied only to nearby post-secondary institutions or did not attend college at all because of the distance. These young people limited their opportunities by these choices. For many, it is necessary to break from adolescent associations and lifestyles in order to enrol in college and excel there. The situation is, of course, far more complicated than just wanting to stay near parents. These young people may be held by peers, the community itself, or a romantic relationship.

The reluctance to leave home for post-secondary education may be greater for non-White young people or those from minority groups. Earlier studies in Canada have found that young Aboriginal students who go away to college often feel an obligation to provide practical help to family members in their home communities. This sense of responsibility is stronger if the young people feel close to their families. Thus they often fail to complete their studies.

There are always some young people who succeed academically even if their parents show little interest or even actively discourage them. But that’s the subject for another blog.

 

Sources:
 

 

Das Gupta, T. (2000). Families of Native people, immigrants, and people of colour. In N. Mandell & A. Duffy (Eds.), Canadian families: Diversity, conflict, and change (2nd ed., pp. 146-187). Toronto: Harcourt Canada.

López Turley, R. N., Desmond, M., & Bruch, S. K. (2010). Unanticipated consequences of a positive parent-child relationship. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 1377-1390.

Sunday, November 21st, 2010 | Author: mjward

Julie returned to work when her baby, Cassie, was eight months old. She had found it stifling to be home all day without the stimulation of her job demands. The baby went to a daycare center that accepted infants. Each worker was given only a few babies to look after. Toddlers enjoyed activities that prepared them for school. Cassie howled for the first two weeks when her mother left her at the center. Julie worried that Cassie would be harmed by the daily separation. But she had to pay attention to her own needs too. How could she raise a happy child when she herself was miserable?

How likely is Cassie to be damaged by entering daycare so young? There has been lots written about the need for children to have the nurture of a parent, especially during the first year of life. Usually it is assumed that the parent staying home with a young child is its mother. There has also been lots written about the needs of parents. In Julie’s case, the need is psychological. As much as she loves her baby, she is bored by unbroken mothering. Other mothers return to work because their families need their income. Research results over the years have been mixed. Some studies have found that children whose mothers worked during their first three years lagged in later school achievement and were more likely to be aggressive or throw tantrums. Others have found that children who have been in daycare do better in school.

Recently, researchers looked at the results of 69 published reports, dating from 1960 to March 2010 and covering a total of 128,738 children. Overall, having a mother who worked during a child’s first three years was only rarely connected with a child’s later school performance or behavioral problems. There were some variations, depending on family structure, income levels, and the age of the child when its mother returned to work. The differences, however, were small.

The children’s ages when their mothers return to the workforce appears to matter. When mothers were employed during a child’s first year, children’s later school achievement tended to be poorer. On the other hand, two- and three-year-olds showed better school results if their mothers worked. Timing, however, was not connected with behavioral problems. Whether a mother works part- or full-time does seem to matter. When mothers worked full-time during a child’s first year, the youngster had, on average, more behavior problems than children whose mothers were unemployed or worked part-time.

One group of children who benefitted from their mothers’ employment were children of single mothers. Some of these mothers found work to get off welfare. Their children did better in school and had fewer behavior problems than other children with working mothers. Perhaps the added financial security gave benefits like more nutritious food, and better clothing and shelter. In addition, these parents were role models for achievement and responsible behavior. However, mothers who were required to enter a welfare-to-work program, especially if their income dropped, had children with more difficulties.

Once families cross an income threshold, the benefits from employment when children are young may drop off, for example in two-parent families with both parents in the workforce. Once a family is not at risk financially, other factors might come into play. For example, parents may have problems juggling work and family responsibilities without feeling as much advantage from the increased income.

One factor that the study could not look at was the quality of care the children received. There is a great deal of difference, for example, between Cassie’s center and the registered family day care of her cousin’s. He is in a group of six children of various ages, while Cassie is in an infant group. He also experiences a more home-like atmosphere. Other researchers have found that children in high-quality day care like Cassie’s are more prepared for school and have fewer behavior problems than children in poorer quality care. The stability of care also matters. Children do better if they have only one or two caregivers rather than being subject to a constant turnover.

How likely is Cassie to be harmed by entering daycare so young? Probably not much. In fact, she may benefit from having a happier mother and entering the enrichment program of her care center.

Source:

Lucas-Thompson, R. G., Goldberg, W. A., & Prause, J. (2010, October 4). Maternal work early in the lives of children and its distal associations with achievement and behavior problems: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037

Monday, November 15th, 2010 | Author: mjward

Do young people on the verge of adulthood have money sense? The occasional story of a college student who commits suicide because of credit card debt suggests that they haven’t developed it. The horror stories about student credit card mismanagement are overblown. About three-fourths of college students handle credit sensibly and don’t run up huge balances on multiple cards. One study found that as college students got older, they became more capable of handling their financial affairs. This may be the result of growing maturity and learning by experience, in other words, practice makes perfect. Other research, however, found that younger college students had better financial practices and less debt than older ones.

Most emerging adults look to their parents for information on how to handle their finances. Those who feel they can talk with their parents about financial matters don’t feel as much stress as those who don’t think they can. Parents’ expectations also influence their children’s financial management and their sense of well-being.

Many parents, however, are not teaching their children what they need to know about money. Too often parents themselves lack knowledge and may get into difficulties over money and debt management. No research suggests that young people’s problems come from the poor example set by parents who can’t manage credit themselves. But I believe there is a connection. For instance, one couple bought a large house beyond their means because they thought it was a good investment. They refinanced the mortgage several times to meet their growing responsibilities. Their children expected and received the best in clothing and electronic toys. One of their sons was given an old but serviceable car by a relative. It was wrecked within a month. Another son trashed an apartment for which his father had cosigned. The bill was huge. The parents are now facing bankruptcy. The children still expect the best things without taking responsibility for earning them.

Learning occurs both through parents’ explicit teaching and by their example. When my children were at home, we rarely talked about financial matters with them. I can’t remember once telling them that we sometimes juggled bills, paying the minimum on the gas credit card for example so that we could meet the electric bill. Or that I had gone back to work because we needed the money to make ends meet. I believe that this lack of communication gave them false ideas as to how much we could help them as they tried to live on their own. It also failed to teach them how to manage their own money.

Another couple, who were self-employed and had fluctuating income considered financial matters part of dinner-time conversation. They might say, “We earned just enough money this month to pay salaries,” or “We netted ten thousand and can put some money away.” Before school, each child was told how much money was available for new clothes and was asked what he or she needed most. They also gave their children modest allowances, but provided them with many opportunities to earn money both around the house and in the family business. As they became older, they also learned about their parents’ investment strategies. Their mother says that, as adults, all the children are sensible about money. Here is an example of both explicit teaching and modeling of behavior.

What can be done to help young people become financially literate? There are a number of suggestions. Educate both parents and their children on money matters. For children, this can be part of their core education, starting from an early age. At the college level, students can be taught about such matters as debt management, saving, and planning for the future. There is little information on how successful educational efforts like these are. But maybe it’s worth a try.

 

 

Sources:

Bowen, C. F. (2002). Financial knowledge of teens and their parents. Financial Counseling and Planning, 13(2), 93-102.

Jorgensen, B. L. (2008, June). The financial literacy of young adults. Family Focus, F11-F13.

Serido, J., Shim, S., Mishra, A., & Tang, C. (2010). Financial parenting, Financial coping behaviors, and well-being of emerging adults. Family Relations, 59, 453-464.

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 | Author: mjward

A father I knew–let’s call him Dan–was absent on business trips for a week at least once a month. Several times a year, he travelled out of the country for three weeks at a time. These longer trips were a mixture of business and pleasure. He rarely called home during his travels and he was hard to contact if there was an emergency. When he returned home, he found that his wife had made decisions without consulting him. He expected to come back to the family he had left only a short while before. While he was away, however, family members and their relationships had changed in small ways, sometimes even in major ways. He felt pushed out. His relationship with his wife and children became more distant.

There are many reasons one partner may be absent from family life. These include periodic travel for work like Dan’s, military service, individual vacations or visits to relatives, and illness. A more dramatic separation occurred in 2010 when Chilean miners were trapped underground for over two months. When a couple does not consult on a daily or near-daily basis, the partner at home must make decisions alone. This is especially true where these are about children. For example, the at-home parent may need to make choices about children’s activities like sleeping over at a friend’s or joining a sports team. Often such matters cannot wait for the other parent to return home, either because of the spontaneous nature of invitations or deadlines for such things as enrollment.

When Dan and his wife had children at home, it was more difficult to communicate with families. Long-distance phone calls could be costly and sometimes difficult to complete when he was abroad. In these days of cell phones, e-mail, and other types of wireless communication, it is easier now for most parents to consult on a daily basis. They must, however, make a conscious choice to act as co-parents and make decisions together. Sometimes the at-home parent won’t confide difficulties to the away-from-home parent so as not to worry him or her. But the attempt to spare one’s partner from worry makes it more difficult to actively co-parent.

Marriage and parenthood call for a partnership of both adults. When one person makes most of the decisions, the other may feel left out of the marriage and active parenting. This type of imbalance may result from situations where a parent still lives at home full-time. An example is the partner who works long hours and is rarely available for family involvement, especially with children. Sometimes the partner most involved with parenting acts as a gatekeeper who discourages the other’s interaction with the children. For example, a mother may hover over her husband as he bathes a baby or changes a diaper, coaching him how to do it just right and undermining his confidence as a parent. Sometimes the busy partner withdraws because he or she cannot handle the stress of family life in addition to workplace stress. For example, one professional and father of several teenagers announced that he was burnt out as a parent. He withdrew from close interaction with his children though he expected any rules he set to be followed.

A person may be absent from parenting for a number of reasons. Some of these are chosen; others are imposed. Not all barriers to a co-parenting partnership can be overcome. Yet when it is in the power of a couple, communication and consultation can lead to better parenting and closer family relationships.

Saturday, July 04th, 2009 | Author: mjward

A river in the desert can change overnight from a beach to a torrent. Sometimes adolescence seems to come on as suddenly. Preadolescence is usually a fairly quiet time in the life of a family. Your youngster pauses to consolidate the gains he or she has made earlier in childhood and prepares for the enormous changes of puberty and adolescence. Then suddenly, it seems in just a day, your child is a bundle of raging hormones, up one day emotionally and down the other, ready to challenge your every word one second, and in the next wanting to be your baby. Parents can be shocked and unprepared. But, given time, most teens will come to terms with their bodies and their feelings. They will discover who they are and what they want to do with their lives. The best we, as parents can do, is be there for them. We can try not to become too angry and demanding. We can try to give them space to develop. We can let them live with the consequences of their choices. We need to intervene, if we can, when they are about to destroy themselves. If we can’t, they will need us to stand by to help them pick up the pieces. In time, the torrent will abate. There will be a fresh landscape, with more mature relationships with our children.

Monday, January 05th, 2009 | Author: mjward

The year-end holidays brought many get-togethers of family and friends. Most of them were built around sumptuous meals. In fact, sharing food helped make the occasion. These were not just times for eating, but also times for enjoying the company of others.

I remember my childhood meals with my family. Of course, there were the special ones to celebrate birthdays, Christmas, the presence of visitors and other events. But we sat down together as a family every evening, no matter how simple the food. When I had my own children, even when they were involved in many activities, we made a ritual of Sunday dinner. Everyone was expected to be present. The food needed more effort and usually featured a roast or other such meat, rather than the weekday spaghetti or casserole. And there was always dessert — pie or cake, most often.

A social policy report from the Society for Research in Child Development encourages family mealtimes. Although meals often last no longer than twenty minutes, they can have a profound effect on children’s development. Research studies suggest that children who regularly share meals are healthier, and that they are less likely to become obese, have eating disorders, or use drugs. They are more likely to do well in school. Restaurant meals and take-out food are a convenience for busy families, but they are rarely as healthy as home-prepared meals, which are more apt to include fruit and vegetables.

Dr. Kerry Daly of the University of Guelph states that family meals can be shortchanged during the week because of the demands of paid employment, such as shift work, or children’s activities. Often the time demands result in “grazing” where everyone finds something to eat when they’re hungry. There are other things that interfere with family meals, such as watching TV while eating. Arranging shared mealtimes demands special effort, which not everyone can afford. Yet meals together, like the holiday ones we shared, have a social importance far beyond their physical and nutritional value. They are a glue that bonds families. They are also occasions that teach social graces which will ease interactions with others far into the future.

The social policy report makes a number of recommendations as to how communities can support family meal times. Some require broad government actions. Others involve educating families on how to hold healthy family mealtimes. One appealing recommendation is the establishment of a family supper night. Workplaces and schools can set aside one evening free of activities and demands so that families can eat together. In the end, though, it is the parents and families who will decide that meals are an important event. Then they will make time for dinner together.