I had thought—naively, it appears—that everyone accepted the transcendent value of family dinners. I wrote about it many years ago and have been revisiting the topic from time to time on this blog.
So, when I saw a study showing that children who regularly ate with their families were less susceptible to bullying and cyberbullying I thought it worth notice here.
I was somewhat surprised to see all the attention the study attracted, though I was not at all shocked to see that feminist firebrand Amanda Marcotte was having none of it.
For a true feminist, the call for regular family dinners is a call to relegate women to the role of food-preparers. To Marcotte’s mind only a woman would understand how much of a burden it is to feed one’s children while living within the walls of what Betty Friedan called “a comfortable concentration camp.”
Since feminists want, at best, for food preparation to be a shared activity, they are alert to any effort to return to the safe and well-ordered family life that they, truth be told, have been undermining for the past four decades.
But then, others began to chime in on the topic. Megan McArdle, a fine writer who most often helps us to understand complex economic questions wrote a post about how she prepares dinner. Apparently, she wanted to echo the thoughts that some commenters on this blog made. Namely, that feeding your children need not be torture; it need not even be a burden.
By entitling her article: “Feminism Starts in the Kitchen,” McArdle underscores the important point. Second wave feminism was not as much about political rights as it was about undermining the family, subverting traditional roles and turning the kitchen into a war zone.
One commenter on this blog offered the most salient critique. She explained that while feminists insist that they are uber-competent in all areas of human endeavor, they cannot muster up the energy or the talent to prepare regular meals for their children.
Then again, no one said that women have to be the family cooks. Inn more than a few households, men know how to cook and women don’t. In others, men like to cook and the women don’t.
None of this makes it impossible to hold regular family dinners.
And yet, in many cases the men and the women in question are slightly embarrassed by their role reversal.
Of course, now that the word about family dinners is out, parents who do not practice this edifying and character-building activity get defensive. Or better, they take offense. So much so that they jump on the Marcotte bandwagon and declare that, for them, family dinners are too much of a burden to bear.
Among the defensive, we find Time editor, Jeffrey Kluger, a man who occasionally sits down with his daughters while they are eating, but who prefers not to have family dinners. Apparently, his utterly loveable daughters are insufferable at the dinner table.
As I mentioned, one primary reason people do not have family dinners is the absence of decorum at the dinner table. If we ask where children learned how not to behave, one does not need to look very far.
In the meantime, Kluger tries to justify himself by blaming his daughters. Their behavior, he suggests, is so bad that they are a horror at the dinner-table.
In his words:
It’s not that my wife and I don’t eat with our daughters sometimes. We do. It’s just that it often goes less well than one might like. For one thing, there’s the no-fly zone surrounding my younger daughter’s spot at the table, an invisible boundary my older daughter dare not cross with touch, gesture or even suspicious glance, lest a round of hostile shelling ensue.
There is too the deep world-weariness my older daughter has begun bringing with her to meals, one that, if she’s feeling especially 13-ish, squashes even the most benign conversational gambit with silence, an eye roll, or a look of disdain so piteous it could be sold as a bioterror weapon. Finally, there is the coolness they both show to the artfully prepared meal of, say, lemon sole and capers — an entrée that is really just doing its best and, at $18.99 per lb., is accustomed to better treatment.
If there is a special virtue to holding regular dinners, and if Kluger sees fit to deprive his daughters of this beneficial activity, he might have had enough grace not to blame them.
After all, Kluger’s daughters are children and children have feelings too. Is there any good reason to hold them both up to ridicule in a major national publication? Who knows when they might discover their father’s harsh judgment of their behavior? Who knows what their friends might say?
Kluger is entitled to refuse to eat dinner with his children. It may not be for the best, but, until he wrote his article, no one was paying it much mind. And yet, justifying his dereliction by blaming his daughters is very bad form.