Could the breakdown of the American family be traced to the dinner table?
According to a Gallup poll, it's at least a sign. A poll released Jan. 20 showed that only 28 percent of American families with children eat together seven nights a week -- a drop of 10 points from three years ago.
While seven nights a week may be a lofty goal, the poll also showed
that fewer families -- 75 percent -- are meeting a smaller standard of at least four nights week. That is a decline from recent years: In 1997, 83 percent of Americans ate together at least four nights a week; in 2001 it was 79 percent.
Tom Elliff, an Oklahoma pastor who chairs the Southern Baptist Convention's Council on Family Life, said that time around the dinner table is important.
"It's around the table that you learn a lot of the graces of a
civilized society," said Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist
Church in Del City, Okla. "You learn a little bit about manners. You learn how to listen to one another."
The Gallup poll showed that the percentage of families eating together three nights or less a week has increased: from 16 percent in 1997, to 22 percent in 2001 to 24 percent today.
Communication within families is "very important," Elliff said, adding that a meal provides family members an opportunity to talk and to learn about one another without any distractions -- no television, no video games, no telephone.
"One of the greatest evidence of the disintegration of our culture is that families no longer take the time to eat together," he said. "There are many, many factors that come into play, obviously. Many homes have single parents or both parents are working."
Elliff and his wife Jeannie raised four children. Realizing early in their marriage that school and church activities would prevent a
regular family dinner, they decided to have their family meal at
breakfast. So every day, Monday through Friday, the parents and
children ate together at 7 a.m.
The family's faith played an integral part: Elliff read a verse and
prayed. Attendance was a "fairly rigid" rule, he said.
"[W]e knew that it was important for our family to spend a portion of every day together eating," he said. "And so my wife and I just bit the bullet and we determined that we were going to make breakfast time that time for our family."
Eating together has biblical significance, Elliff said, noting that
Christ used a dining analogy in Revelation 3:20 in referring to His
relationship with the believer: "I ... will dine with him, and he with Me" (NASB). In addition, Elliff said, Jesus detractors made note of his meal guests during His earthly ministry.
"Eating is one of the ways in which any civilization reveals the esteem it holds for individuals," Elliff said.
Interestingly, Gallup found that families in Canada and Great Britain are more likely than families in America to eat a nightly meal together. In Canada 40 percent of families eat together seven nights a week, while in Great Britain 38 percent of families did the same. Additionally, 80 percent of Canadian families eat together at least four nights a week.
The American poll was based on telephone interviews with 331 adults
with children under the age of 18 and was conducted in December. The Canadian poll was based on 348 interviews, the Great Britain poll 328 interviews.
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