There is no question that a family that is able to meet regularly around a dinner table has a chance to connect, which has been proven to serve as an excellent inoculation against teenage alcoholism, promiscuity and drug use.

Unfortunately, as heart-warming as this statistic may seem, it is probably not the traditional  family dinner table that matters as much as it is what happens around the family dinner table.  What happens there, can actually happen anywhere.

Let us break this down to what actually happens around the dinner table, in an ideal situation, that leads to such great results. Family members sit back, nourish their bodies and commune with each other.  Parents can exchange some news, become interested in what their children’s day was like, and children have a chance to talk about whatever is on their plate - so to speak. Opinions and experiences can be shared, and a feeling of deep connectedness naturally emanates from all this.

I can certainly report from the annals of my practice and other case histories that this ideal does not happen at every dinner table. Countless families I know do not find the dinner table a good place for bonding, because they are not relaxed enough there.  In fact, some families may actually experience a lot of tension around dinner time.

The reasons dinners can be tense are multitudinous. Sometimes, various activities lead to them being too rushed. At other times, the parents are driven to resolve pressing issues they may be too tired to process at another time. Sibling rivalry or other child-related issues can also prevent the time from being relaxing. These problems exist even for families that mostly enjoy their dinner table. So in reality, the family dinner table can’t always be a place to feel connected and relaxed.

As sad as this may be true, let’s not get trapped by the ideal. Let’s work, instead, to dissect the ingredients of a happy family dinner table, and then, use those ingredients wherever we are.

The most important ingredient, I would say, is love. Love, as a verb, is what is important. Dinner is ideally a good time to express love, because you are all together putting in time as a group, strengthening the bond.

Another ingredient is enjoyment. Mothers or fathers who can enjoy their children’s news and ideas, radiate that happiness to their children. This feeling really does strengthen the bond of love, and it is no wonder that this experience is most often scheduled around good food.

In actuality, love and enjoyment can happen anywhere. They may require attention, but love and enjoyment can happen in the car, before bed, or on the way to the soccer field.

If you can’t express it around the dinner table, find the place and time that works for you. What would be a good time for you and your family to pay attention to love? Maybe a gathering at 8:30 in the evening, when everyone has a bowl of cereal together, would work. Perhaps, a weekend time would work, or desert at an ice-cream store a few times a week. The possibilities are endless.