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The family that eats together...

February 15, 2001

The family that eats together...



By KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Fickett familyThe Fickett family of Waynesboro, Pa., - John, Toni and their seven sons - eat dinner together almost every evening.

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"It's one way to say we're a family, and our family is important," says Toni Fickett.

The Fickett family is not alone in taking time to eat together as a family. Many Americans do - 75 percent of households, according to "Eating Patterns in America," an annual report produced by the NPD Group, a consumer marketing research company headquartered near Chicago.

Families may not be cooking the kinds of meals Grandma made, says Harry Balzer, NPD Group's vice president. One-dish meals and carry-out foods are increasingly popular. But contrary to general impressions, the family dinner is alive.

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"Sometimes it's the only time of the day that we get to connect," says Liz Brabson of Boonsboro.

Her family is busy. Husband Paul Brabson travels a lot for work. When he's home, he's swimming at Hagerstown YMCA by 6 a.m. His youngest child, Eric, 3 1/2, takes swimming lessons. Sister Laurel, 10, and brother Andy, 12, are on the YMCA's swim team. The children play soccer, and Andy plays basketball on the school team.

"They do lots," Liz Brabson says.

She drives her kids to activities. "My life has gotten so crazy," she says.

Dinnertime is flexible. The family eats early if practice is late, or late if practice is early.

"We don't have fancy dinners. The meals are pretty simple and pretty cheap," says John Fickett, who is pastor at Fairview Avenue Brethren in Christ Church in Waynesboro. But eating dinner together is important.

Family meals work in a useful way because children are learning to consider the needs of others, says Sidney W. Mintz, author and emeritus professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The table is one of the few places where children can't play parents off each other. It works with spinach. It also seems to work with manners, Mintz says.

All of these little practices are part of the price we pay for becoming grown-ups. Becoming civilized is equivalent to becoming an adult. "It's a very important part of growing up," Mintz says.

Sybil Schiffman, a licensed professional counselor in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va., has prescribed family dinners as a therapeutic tool. She recommends guidelines - no arguing, no raised voices, no bad manners, and, although parents "always have the last word," everyone is equal in contributing to the conversation.

The family unit is the core of the community, Schiffman says. If the core doesn't meet, it dissolves, she says.

Schiffman's Russian-Jewish grandmother never learned to read English, but she made wonderful "Southern-fried chicken," and her family gathered to eat it every Sunday.

"Food is nurturing," says Schiffman, who asked a teenage client what he would want for his family if he could wave a magic wand. "I wish we could have a meal together," he told her.

Dinner is the time when members of the Fickett family catch up with each other, John Fickett says. Toni Fickett is working an eight-week stint as a substitute teacher at Waynesboro Area Senior High School. Her two oldest sons are students there, play school sports and are in the all-school production. They also work as lifeguards at Waynesboro YMCA.

The five younger boys are home-schooled. Six of the children take music lessons - two piano, three violin and one cello.

Dinner is a time for building relationships.

"We really need together time," Toni Fickett says.

With such a wide age range, it's important for the younger kids to have time with the older ones. Everybody gets to hear what a teacher said, share a joke, how someone was treated or what someone learned.

"Face-to-face" time is important, Toni Fickett says.

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