Monday, September 2, 2019

The Family Table: Burden or Blessing?

Over the summer, a presidential candidate proudly celebrated her birthday at a Planned Parenthood Action Fund event. (Yes, you read that right). She enthusiastically stated, "What better way to celebrate my birthday than right here with Planned Parenthood?" I could easily write an entire post about the sickening irony of this scenario, but it was something she went on to say that prompted me to sit down and write today. Speaking at the event, she made a link between restrictions on abortion "rights" and the feminist disdain for the seemingly oppressive role of homemaking as she defiantly declared, "You're not going to lock women back in the kitchen. You're not going to tell us what to do." (You can read the article here)

The modern feminist movement has been pushing the narrative for decades now that marriage, homemaking, and child-bearing are somehow oppressive and degrading to women; chains put in place by a patriarchal and domineering society. According to them, true freedom and empowerment for a woman comes from pursuing a career, foregoing starting a family (at least in her youth), and indulging in sexual relationships with whomever she wants, whenever she wants, without consequence. This is their prescribed path to success, contentment, and happiness we are told. There is so much we could unpack here, but I want to focus today on the politician's specific reference to the "kitchen."

Recently I was in my kitchen preparing dinner for my lovely family, when I began to reflect on the sheer volume of meals that have been prepared in this little space. We have lived in our current home for over nine years now. Three meals a day for nine years adds up to 9,855 meals served. Wow! Obviously this is only an estimate. There have been vacations, meals eaten out, postpartum meal trains, and, yes, my husband has cooked meals as well! However, as a homemaker, I do prepare and serve the majority of our family's meals. Over the years my cooking habits and skills have evolved and improved, as has my love for cooking in general. Am I always in the mood to cook? No. Are there days I want a break? Absolutely. But overall, I count it a privilege to be able to lovingly create nutritious meals for my beautiful family. In no way do I feel oppressed or enslaved in my occupation. On the contrary, I wholeheartedly believe that I am giving myself to one of the most worthwhile pursuits there is in life--raising up the next generation within my home. And a key component to this is the family table.

In our busy, digital age, fewer and fewer families take the time to sit down together and share a meal around the table on a regular basis. Meals are eaten on the go from a fast food drive thru as we race to the next activity or in front of a glowing screen, maybe even multiple glowing screens in different rooms. As a society, we have largely lost the value and significance of the family table and have settled instead for individual ease and convenience. But at what cost?

A number of years ago, The Washington Post ran an article entitled The most important thing you can do with your kids? Eat dinner with them. It goes on to chronicle the profound, research-based benefits that a regular family mealtime around the table can have on children and adolescents. The benefits impact developmental/academic performance, emotional well-being, and physical health. According to this article, young children's cognitive development is enriched for "dinnertime conversation boost vocabulary even more than being read aloud to." For the school-age child, "regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports or doing art." 

The benefits can be especially profound for the teenage years as the article reports "Adolescents who ate family meals five to seven times a week were twice as likely to get A's in school as those who ate dinner with their families fewer than two times a week." They are also less likely to be obese in adulthood and more likely to maintain healthy eating habits. In addition, regular family meals help to lower the chances of many high risk teen behaviors such as "smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, violence, school problems, eating disorders and sexual activity."

Daily meals are not meant to only nourish our bodies, but to nourish our souls. All through history, celebrations, commemorative events, and traditional hospitality are most often centered around the sharing of food. In our modern day and age, holiday meals are an anchor for our family gatherings and celebrations. Many of us deeply cherish these times. If we so value this time, why not celebrate life together every day by gathering with those we love around the table as we nourish both body and soul?

Though not mentioned in this particular article, I believe family mealtimes are also crucial for the spiritual development of a child. Around the table the family can give thanks, pray together, discuss the things on their hearts, and even share a devotion time. In our own family, we have developed the habit of pulling a prayer topic out of our little "prayer box" at the end of the meal. We then take turns praying over the focus for the day. Only one of our four children is cognitively able to fully participate at this point, but we are setting a precedent for years to come. Even though mealtimes with young children can often feel a bit chaotic, we know we are investing in both the present and the future well-being of our family. We have come to really cherish these times! 

The Bible is also filled with examples of the significance of sharing a meal with others. This was even demonstrated throughout the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. It was around the dinner table that the Son of God washed the feet of His disciples, demonstrating to them the loving, servant-hearted leadership He was calling them to. It was around a shared meal that He spoke to the disciples about the New Covenant that was about to be enacted by the shedding of His blood on the cross. It was around the dinner table that He shared the deepest things of His heart with His closest friends just before heading to the Garden of Gethsemane as He prepared to lay His life down for the salvation of the world. 

If the benefits of the family table are so great, then why not consider it a noble privilege instead of draining drudgery for a wife and mother to prepare meals for those we love? Our families need to eat every day. Somebody somewhere will have to prepare the food. Why shouldn't it be us?

Now, I am not advocating for women to be treated as second class citizens, as though they are incapable of anything other than domestic work. I am not advocating for women to in any way be denied the freedoms that we enjoy and so often take for granted as Americans. However, I believe we make a grave error to explicitly link homemaking and motherhood with the oppression of women. Not only is this a false notion, it is a grace disservice to the countless women who choose to invest their time and energy as homemakers, raising children and serving their families as their full-time occupation. Instead of viewing the realm of homemaking with disdain, we should give it a place of honor and respect in our society. It is anything but second-rate!

Of course, a woman does not have to be a full-time homemaker for a family to experience the benefits of a shared mealtime. The main point is that families are intentional to gather around the table on a regular basis and enjoy fellowship together. The rewards will always outweigh the inconveniences. May your table be blessed today!

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