Why the family dinner is good for parents.

Snapshots of life at home.
July 11 2008 12:36 PM

The Mac-and-Cheese Effect

Why family dinner makes working parents (especially moms) feel better.

Illustration by Rob Donnelly. Click image to expand.

The family dinner is ambrosia and nectar and manna, too, researchers have long told us. It helps prevent teenagers from abusing drugs and alcohol or smoking, and it protects them from stress, asthma, and eating disorders. It boosts kids' reading scores and grades. By the time all the virtues of dinner togetherness have been extolled, you can only feel that if you love your kids, you have to get home in time to sauté the stir fry. You might even cut back to working part time to force-feed them falafel, as law professor Cameron Stracher relates in a book he published last year. Or you can resolve to spend Sundays shopping and serving as your own sous-chef, as the New York Times' Leslie Kaufman outlines here.

Actually, the link between family dinner and idyllic child-rearing is a little more complicated than our collective bending of the knee might suggest. It may be that family dinner appears to shine because parents who eat with their kids also stuff them with other forms of enrichment. Or that the benefits come not from dinner per se but from the quality of the conversation that takes place at the table (and, in theory, could happen at any time of day). Are you talking as well as listening, answering queries ("What a good question!"), and telling stories that naturally lead to useful lessons and bits of information? For more on just how the benefits of the family dinner unfold, listen to this NPR piece.


Good, you're back, and now that the kids are out of the way, let's think about some other members of the family: ourselves. What do parents get out of family dinner? Is it all intellectual and emotional milk and honey for them, too? Or is having dinner with your kids a chore, one more sacrifice of peace, quiet, and cabernet for their sake?

Happily, according to a new study, family dinner appears to be good for parents, too. The research by lead author Jenet Jacob of Brigham Young University found that among 1,580 parents who worked at IBM, those who said their jobs interfered less with being home for dinner tended to feel greater personal success, and success in relationships with their spouses and their children. The working parents—both mothers and fathers—had all of these buoyant feelings if they made it home for dinner more regularly, even if they still worked long hours. They also felt more kindly toward their workplace. Parents who missed dinner at home because of work, on the other hand, felt gloomy about their professional futures. "It is noteworthy that although longer work hours predicted significantly greater perception of success in work life, work interference with dinnertime predicted lower perception of success in work life," Jacob and her co-author write.

I revel in this kind of study because it confirms my pet biases. I hate never-ending workdays. Kids or no kids, they are grueling, and I don't really believe that most people get much more work accomplished in 10 or 12 hours than they do in eight. (Or six? Oof, I feel a coffee-break urge coming on.)


Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Do the Celebrities Whose Nude Photos Were Stolen Have a Case Against Apple?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company


How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 3:19 PM In Defense of Congress Leaving Town Without a New War Vote
Business Insider
Sept. 18 2014 3:31 PM What Europe Would Look Like If All the Separatist Movements Got Their Way
Sept. 18 2014 3:24 PM Symantec Removes Its “Sexual Orientation” Filter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 3:55 PM Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 2:39 PM Here's How to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.