Considering there have been four adults living under the same roof for the past decade, we get along fairly well. It’s not perfect though. My wife Sandra tends to quite agitated over the mess in the living room. She likes a clean and organized living space. The kids don’t share the same values. Wherever something lands … is where it stays. The living room is their main living space and it lives up to the task of being a living … room. However, it is not an organized living room, much to my wife’s chagrin. I don’t get too excited about it. Now if they made a mess in my living area, my office, then that would be a different story.
What annoys me is that suppertime in the Stonehouse Household can seem to go on forever. It often starts at four PM and goes on through to ten PM. That’s a six hour meal time. It never used to be that way but somehow it has evolved into it. Three of the four adults have different schedules to accommodate eating. A couple years back I started to try to control my diet by having a salad and some protein for every supper. Yes, it got a little routine at times. Sandra didn’t want to eat the same salad that I had every evening so she was forced to fend for herself. She would often make a meal for her and the rest of the family. Other times, when she wasn’t in the mood for an additional domestic chore she would look after making her own supper. Or not! It can be easy to lose your enthusiasm when cooking for only one person. It is a common lament by people living alone.
The kids often have an early supper, or is it a late lunch, shortly after four PM? By eight PM, they are ready for a second supper. Suppertime never seems to end. Dishes get cleaned, dried, put away and back into service repeatedly over the course of an evening. The mess never seems to end.
Specifically what annoys me is that we don’t sit down anymore, together, as a family and share our meals. We are missing out on that quality family time where we get to share the activities of our days and to socialize as adults, albeit with an active four year old who likes her share of the attention.
I long for a return of traditional family values, a time where the family sat down together for an evening meal.
I recall when I was young, my father would come home from the office at five PM. He would have his suit on and my mother would meet him at the door. She would be wearing a dress and he favourite pearl necklace. Suppertime was always precisely at 5:15 PM. All of us children shared in the family conversation and our parents were interested in our daily activities.
But wait a minute … that wasn’t my family memories … that was a rerun episode on television of Leave it to Beaver. No wonder all my childhood memories were in black and white. They weren’t mine!
While I long for a return for those so-called traditional family values, I’m left wondering if they ever actually existed? If they existed in the real world that is.
Over the past years I have read articles in the media lamenting the breakdown of traditional family values. On one hand, they tout television shows from the late fifties and early sixties like Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best and The Ozzie & Harriet Show, featuring a young Ricky Nelson as standards of quality family life to hold ourselves up to. These are fictional families depicted in daily situations that never seem to have occurred in reality i.e. any other families.
On the other hand, they cite several reasons for the break down of these so-called traditional family values:
- Marriages aren’t lasting as long as they used to. The terms “for better or worse” or “until death do us part” seem to be open for interpretation, rather than an actual promise. Many families are being lead by a single parent, be it the husband or the wife. Raising a family on a single wage can be difficult, if not next to impossible. Besides paying the household expenses, the expenses related to feeding and clothing the children, there are numerous other expenses that can’t seem to be covered. Making ends meet is an ongoing challenge. Having the luxury of sitting down as a family doesn’t seem to have that high of a priority. Having food to eat in the first place can take up the focus.
- At one time, it was the male of the household that went out to work daily to support the family. The woman in the relationship was tasked with managing the household and raising the children. That scenario could easily be prefaced with “Once upon a time …” Nowadays, it is often a necessity that both parents work outside of the home to make ends meet. If not due to necessity, two parents working can be a way of affording the little luxuries or comforts in life that many of us strive for. Shift work can create a scenario where all of the family members may not be able to get together for the supper meal. There always seems to be somebody missing.
- Some parents choose to stay together “for the children” even though they are perpetuating everyone in the family being miserable. There appears to be evidence that perhaps it would be better for the couple to split so that everyone can get on with their lives. Short term pain for hopefully long term gain.
- In the early 1950’s C.A. Swanson & Sons created a product entitled “TV Brand Frozen Dinner.” The product has become generic and we now know it as a TV dinner. TV dinners supposedly were created if not marketed towards housewives to free them up from the daily chore of creating meals, so they could spend it on other activities. Likely more household duties that weren’t being completed by anyone else. Watching television while eating supper became a fad that hasn’t seemed to have disappeared yet. Now besides televisions, family members are staring at Ipads, laptops, tablets and any number of screens. Sitting down for a family meal appears to have declined to rare occasions.
So much for sharing a meal and talking about how one’s day went. But then again, did those traditional family values really ever exist?
It certainly wasn’t like that in my family when I was young. I wasn’t aware of the term “dysfunctional family” until I read about it in my nursing training in my psychology course. I was sure that each upcoming page would have a picture of my family.
My father was the head of the family … by royal decree. His! I’m sure that he felt that he was a reincarnation of Henry the Eighth as that was the way he ruled the family. Children were serfs. My mother was chattel.
Unlike Wally and the Beaver, the children in Leave it to Beaver, the children in the Stonehouse family were to be seen and not heard. I don’t think that we were even supposed to be seen.
My mother worked evenings in a factory when I was young. I learned to sew, cook, launder and clean the house, all before I was 12 years old, as did my two younger sisters. The three of us were cooking our family dinners at an early age.
My parents bickered all the time. They were the classic example of a couple that stayed together for the kids. I think they had a personal challenge between each other to see who outlast the other being miserable. My mother won.
While my mother was often away during weekly meals, we traditionally sat down as a family for Sunday supper. Suppers were not an enjoyable event in our house. As I have said, my father though he was the king. Tyrant might have been a better title. Any infraction at the supper table by one of my fellow brothers and sisters resulted in an immediate response. There was the having one’s pants pulled down at the side of the table and receiving hits on the bare buttocks. Back hands to the head weren’t uncommon. Being sent to stand in the corner was a nightly ritualistic punishment in our family. It didn’t matter if you knew what you were being punished for or not … five kids, five corners. The image of my brother, an infant, sitting in his highchair with his nose in the corner will stick with me forever.
The tension during these Sunday meals was high. The weekly meals were equally as stressful without our mother to run interference for us. I recall one situation where my mother was pouring some ketchup on to her plate. My father being quite cheap had watered down the ketchup with leftover pickle vinegar. My mother’s plate was covered with a pool of watered down red soup. In anger, she immediately rifled the ketchup bottle the length of the table, hitting my father in the head. Another tense meal!
Back in the sixties, when this happened, there was a lot of media coverage about UFOs i.e. flying saucers. My father used to tell everyone “I don’t know what the big deal about flying saucers is. I’ve been seeing flying saucers … plates, glasses, silverware and bottles for years. All coming at me!”
While Mr. Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver seemed to wear a suit at all times, my father never wore a shirt to the supper table. I recall the first time I brought my girlfriend Sandra, later my wife, home to meet my family over supper. My brothers and sisters were collectively goading my father “how come you got a shirt on Dad?” A growl and a “shut up!” was the answer.
My father evicted my youngest sister from the house when she was fourteen or so. I don’t think I ever knew what her supposed infraction was. I know that it left the rest of us to live in fear. I wasn’t ready to leave home yet. The family counselling didn’t help much either.
While I don’t believe that the family-oriented sitcoms from the fifties and sixties actually represented reality I also don’t believe that my childhood family represented everyone else’s reality. I’m sure there were many functional families that shared their suppers in a nurturing way. As well, I am sure there were a lot of families that were even more dysfunctional. My parents weren’t drinkers. That adds a whole new element to some family’s reality.
As we can’t change the past, how can we improve the future? I suppose we have to ask ourselves some questions: “Do we want traditional family values?” Are we willing to develop strategies and act upon them that will develop family values that are specific to our families?” “How do we get a buy in from the rest of our family members?”
Well, in our extended family it has been a simple matter of somebody in the household deciding to make a meal that will fit everyone’s needs, likes and schedules. This assumes of course that we are all available to sit down at one time with no external distractions or commitments. We have been able to do this a couple times a week lately. It has been a good source of adult conversation that may not have occurred in our daily living together.
So how can others do the same? Someone has to take a lead in the project. Yes, it is actually a project. There is a set of deliverables and it is necessary to develop strategies that lead to achieving the goal. As things develop, for better or for worse, it may be necessary to adjust the strategies.
In some families, maybe one meal a week serves the purpose of reuniting the family. You may even need to develop some ground rules around the family meal. For example, no electronic devices should be in use, in or near the dining area. This includes televisions. Telephones shouldn’t be answered at meal times. That’s what answering machines and voice mail are for. Why waste your time talking with a telemarketer when you could be sharing a story with a family member?
If there is a strain in the family dynamics, you can expect this to transfer to the family meal. It might take some convincing to get everyone involved. Some families have been successful in having several if not all family members be involved in the preparation of the meal. Perhaps on a rotational basis might work.
Another challenge can be for family members to start talking to each other, if they haven’t been doing so lately. One technique that has proven to be a lot of fun and be effective in breaking the ice and getting people talking is that of table topics. Table Topics is a regular activity at most Toastmasters clubs where members practice speaking impromptu, meaning they speak about a topic they don’t have any advance warning about.
In this case, you are literally sitting at your dining room or kitchen table, so the name of Table Topics is quite appropriate.
If some thought goes into creating the topic in advance, they can be a lot of fun. Some people find it helpful to have a theme for the table topics for the meal. It might take a little encouragement for your family members to participate, with some acceptance of those that are too shy or reluctant to offer an opinion. By setting an example of the family dinner as a safe haven to express an opinion, it may plant the seeds in a family member to take conversational risks outside of the family dinner table. The world can certainly use more people that are able to express their opinions and be able to back it up with logic.
Family traditions can be made right now. We don’t have to refer to a once upon a time, time. All it takes is the desire to make a change for the better for your family. Right now, the right way.
Please share this story with others. Together we can make a difference.
Rae Stonehouse is an Okanagan-based Author, Speaker, Speech/Presentations Coach, Power Networker & Toastmaster Extraordinaire.
Author of Self-Help Downloadable E-Books:
Power Networking for Shy People: Tips & Techniques for Moving from Shy to Sly!
PROtect Yourself! Empowering Tips & Techniques for Personal Safety: A Practical Violence Prevention Manual for Healthcare Workers.
E=Emcee Squared: Tips & Techniques to Becoming a Dynamic Master of Ceremonies.
Power of Promotion: On-line Marketing for Toastmasters Club Growth
Articles by Rae: (by subject)
Workplace Conflict Resolution, Working With a Non Profit Board of Directors, Communication Skills, Promotion, Effective Meeting Management, Personal Development, Editorials, Power Networking, Media Releases, Rae’s Rants.
Rae’s social … are you?
Linkedin? Rae is http://www.linkedin.com/in/raestonehouse
Copyright 2016 Rae Stonehouse. The above document may be freely copied and distributed as long as the author’s name and contact info remain attached.