(First of two parts)
Cardinal Chito Tagle once said, “It makes me sad that many families share a meal only once a week. Others are at home and eat at the same time, but each one has a personal television. Each one gets a plate of food and then faces the TV. Father watches basketball. Mother eats while sobbing through a telenovela. The child eats while playing computer games. The plate has become the basic unit of the meal.”
Tagle reminded us that “a family is where people have decided to give each other the gift of a loving presence … that transforms … and empowers. Love is the most powerful agent for transforming lives, but love and care need presence, communication, sharing memories, telling stories, eating together and weaving together shared lives as one happy stream.”
In 2003, family counselor Maribel Sison-Dionisio and I studied Ateneo High School student achievers and found that most of them had regular family dinners.
During family meals, successes were shared and problems nipped in the bud. Family meals helped in character development.
Columbia University’s Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse said the more frequently children had dinner with their families, the less likely they were to get addicted to cigarettes, drink and drugs and indulge in early sex.
Last year, upon signing Proclamation No. 326 making the fourth Sunday of September “Kainang Pamilya Mahalaga” Day, President Aquino said, “Having a common family meal encourages parents to stay connected with their children and understand the challenges they face.”
Writer and speaker Francis Kong, with the help of Lucky Me Noodles’ Shellane Dy, came up with the book “Famealy Matters: 50-Plus Stories of Everyday Intimacy at the Family Dining Table.” A total of 58 contributors discuss the importance of sharing family meals.
Honored to be included, I talked about how family dinners —with my parents and my own family now—were a habit, where we bonded and communicated.
Health and values
Rep. Sonny Angara and wife Tootsy said they used family meals to encourage children to eat healthy by modelling healthy habits and devising games if needed. “It is not always easy to persuade our children to eat fruits and vegetables … When reasoning doesn’t work, we get creative. Our favorite [game] is ‘20 Questions.’ [Our daughter] Ines has a curious mind [and] gets quite engrossed in the game, [finishing] her food without realizing it.”
Recording artist Billy Crawford recalled that dinners took two or more hours, “an entertainment show and an interview all in one,” with him and his father getting up to dance. “And the values you can pick up! It’s where I learned table manners, proper etiquette and giving thanks to the Lord for providing us with wonderful meals … Everything else stemmed from that. For example, I became more considerate toward others, serving them food first before myself.”
Waltermart founder Wilson Lim said young ones imbibed values during family meals. “When we say grace before meals, this teaches the little ones about Christian values we hold dear. Likewise, our Sunday reunions enable us to bond with the younger generation, as my grandkids help out in the kitchen by baking breads and cookies for dessert.”
Travel Magazine associate publisher Monique Buensalido extolled open communication. “We … talk to each other all the time during meals. We can talk about career moves, relationships, investments, presidential candidates, even the RH bill. By learning about [my family’s] opinions and values, I’ve learned about and formed my own. By being with them during mealtimes, I’ve learned how to become my own person. My foundations are in my family, and my family’s foundation is at our table.”
Fashion photographer Raymund Isaac said, “[At dinner] we would laugh about the silliest things, for my mother was a very opinionated woman but in a good way.” Isaac’s mom would say: “My nagging you is a sign that I care. If I didn’t, then you wouldn’t hear a peep from me. But because I love you, I want to give you the wise counsel that can keep you forewarned and forearmed in your life.”
“We learned so much from the countless [meals] we had as a family,” Isaac said. “My mother’s ‘sermons’ may not have meant anything when we were young, but the wisdom these imparted stuck like crazy glue in later years.”
Learning during meals
GMA 7 chair Felipe Gozon said: “Mealtimes give parents the chance to know—and be updated on—what is happening with their children on a daily basis. These also provide the perfect opportunity to give guidance and advice when needed. In the past, my wife [Teresa] would ask the children what happened in school and what lessons they had. The latter hardly noticed that my wife was actually reviewing their lessons for the day because she made reviewing what they learned in school seem fun.”
Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez said: “Family meals have never been harried or hurried. In fact, these became lengthier and more leisurely as my children were growing up. I remember being the quizmaster who loved to put all of them to a test. My wife [Abby] and I would engage their minds by holding trivia quizzes on any subject under the sun … I encourage all families to find time to sit down and eat together. Ninety percent of everything you learn about each other will be at the dinner table.”
National Book Store marketing director Xandra Ramos-Padilla said: “The adult conversation around the table [in the past] would inevitably turn to the business concern of the week. Perhaps this is how we grandkids subliminally absorbed the ins and outs of the business life of retail. Perhaps this is also the reason why today we are all helping with the family business, in one way or another.”
Education Secretary Armin Luistro said family meals were a “learning laboratory.” Because they experienced hunger and deprivation during the war, he said, “our elders trained my siblings and me to finish everything on our plates. We would patiently wait for other family members to sit at the dinner table; we would not start unless everybody was there.”
“Children who spend time with their parents during mealtimes have a very good sense of self and are well-rounded … mealtimes are when we develop social graces and discipline, practice acts of generosity and establish intimacies. These things we will never learn in school but are crucial in developing our emotional quotient— a factor that is indispensable for a child to transcend his egotistic sense of self-centeredness.”
Next week: Tips on sharing family meals
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.