Family dinners are a ritual of parenting

Family mealtimes are one of a number of rituals used by parents to promote their beliefs. This is the suggestion of new research published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, which looked at the association between the household meal and the perceived social and health benefits it brings.

Investigators from Cornell University found these advantages may not be as strong, however, if a number of other factors are not controlled as well.

Kelly Musick, Associate Professor of Policy Analysis and Management at the learning institute, noted the main link between eating with relatives and teen wellbeing was mainly due to other aspects of the family environment.

Ms Musick explained these meals help form a group of broader practices used by mothers and fathers to reflect their priorities, adding: "It's unclear how well family dinners would work unbundled from the rest of that package."

She added family dinners can, however, provide a positive environment for mums and dads to connect with their children on an emotional level and learn more about their social activities.

Chartered Psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew comments:

"I am really interested in research that helps unpack cultural ideas about families and parenting. Having a family meal together is often thought to be 'a good thing to do' but there is little research looking at its link to particular outcomes. It is refreshing to read a piece of research that suggests we may not be able to isolate one thing, like a family meal, as having a significant impact on our children's development without taking into account other factors.

"Negotiating family relationships and navigating parenthood, chidhood and adolescence are all hugely complex tasks. This piece of research highlights the difficulties in measuring and distinguishing between small parts of these tasks in a meaningful way."

A recent paper in the British Journal of Social Psychology by Sally Wiggins looked at the 'choreography of disgust' at family meals.

I agree with Dr Andrew that it's important to unpack assumptions about family life and parenting. However, as this article is visible to the same people who like to perpetuate myths about this very subject, I was disappointed with the opening sentence "Family mealtimes are one of a number of rituals used by parents to promote their beliefs". This could have been far better worded since the article goes on to discuss neither ritualistic behaviour nor beliefs.

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