Question of the week: Why are family meals so important for the single parent?


There has been a quite a bit of research that shows family meals times are important in keeping kids connected to the family unit. There is even some research that says kids will get better grades and be less depressed when families eat together. Unfortunately with the hectic and busy life style a single parent leads family meals are often the last thing a single parent thinks about.

Many single parents on the way home from work and after picking up the children from childcare swing by a fast food place. Everyone orders what they want and the kids either eat in the car on the way home or as soon as everyone arrives at home, they scatter. The single parent goes straight to the washing machine and starts on the backup laundry. Kids park themselves in front of the TV.

There will be many evenings mom or dad will eat a cold meal alone after having gotten everyone settled and various household chores accomplished. Sometimes it might even be after the kids are in bed and the single parent has had a chance to relax for the first time since early that morning.

Dinner or breakfast?

While most people think a family meal is in the evening, in a single parent family the family meal just might be at breakfast. This could be because the child goes to the other home afterschool. Because many single parent’s work two jobs or kids afterschool activities interfere this might be the only time all of the family members are together all day long.

What better way to start out the day as a kid in a divorced home than to feel connected to my parent and other family members at the beginning of each day?

Whether you are a single parent reading this blog or you minister to single parents, here are some tips to help everyone understand the purpose of family meals along with tips for successful family meals. (And this works in two-parent homes also.)

Purpose of family mealtime

  • To connect with each other on a regular basis.
  • Scheduled family meal times allow children to depend on something happening on a regular basis. This is important to children that have faced the trauma of divorcing parents.
  • Gives meaning and value to belonging to a family unit.
  • Helps family members feel closer to each other.
  • Meals together can validate one’s place in the family unit.
  • It can be a time of sharing day-to-day happenings with each other.
  • Can also serve as a time do commit to praying for each other’s problems and burdens.
  • Meal times can be a time of developing and building rituals and or traditions. Example: Pizza Friday, or holiday meals that extend family traditions.
  • Meals together can be a time when the single parent shares part of their childhood and the family heritages and traditions from their family as a child.

Tips for success

Make the children be part of the process.

  • Start with meal planning. Ask the children what they want to eat.
  • Have the kids help make up a weekly menu.
  • Assign one child to check on ingredients that will be needed while another child makes a list of things that will need to be purchased for each meal.
  • Take the children grocery shopping with you. In my single parent home when the kids were younger we would sit down once a week and clip coupons and organize coupons we wanted to use at the store. Each child would scout out the coupon items in their stack of coupons.
  • Keep meals simple so a lot of time is not spent in preparation,
  • When the kids are helping prepare the meal, make it a fun time by joking, singing songs and sharing funny stories from your childhood.
  • Assign each child a responsibility for each meal. For teens assign each child a day where he or she is responsible for preparing the entire meal.
  • Have younger children who can’t cook help set the table.
  • Either everyone cleans up after the meal or someone is assigned to clean up. When my kids were teens they took turns being responsible every other week for washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen.
  • Every so often have a formal meal. Make it a time for everyone to dress up and use their best manner while you use the best table setting including the expensive dishes, table cloth, napkins, etc. And perhaps even put a flower in a vase in the middle of the table.
  • Always take time to bless the food in prayer before eating.

Keep in mind that engagement is the key to developing and maintaining family meal times.

Some guidelines for sharing meals together

  • Every member has an opportunity to talk.
  • Everyone should listen to each family member.
  • Instead of asking, “How was your day” ask, “What are two good things that happened to you to day?”

I learned this from a very wise single mom years ago. One of her sons had great difficulty with his anger. It seemed like he was in trouble almost everyday at school. This mom decided enough of the negative talk so she instigated a new rule. Each person had to share two good things that happened to him or her every night including the mom. One night they invited me to eat dinner with them and I was expected to also share two positive things.

  • Demonstrate empathy for each other. This can be accomplished by the single parent role modeling empathy to the kids.
  • Every so often, such as once a week, each person tells something positive or something kind about another family member.
  • Children listen to the parent’s issues as the parent tells interesting stories about their day.

Some don’ts

  • One thing to keep in mind is don’t use this as a time to berate kids about a school grade. That conversation needs to come at a different time.
  • Don’t use this time to inquire about what goes on in the other home.
  • Don’t use this time to make your children your confidantes. Find a friend or two for that purpose. Your children need you to be their parent.
  • Don’t use this time to gripe and complain about your ex. Keep in mind that the ex is their other parent.
  • Do NOT look at your cell phone nor answer it or any texts during the meal. As a matter of fact put your cell phone in another room.
  • Do not allow any electronic gadgets or games at the table.

Whether you have your children full time, shared time or only on weekends, family meals might be the missing ingredient to creating a viable and healthy single parent family.



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