Something I read last week caught my attention, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. On the Gourmet Live blog, in a story titled Whatever Happened To The Dinner Party?, writer Alexandra Lange talks fondly of the formal dinner parties her parents would host in the 1980s. She wonders what has happened to that trend.
The question is a good one, but what caught my attention wasn’t something she wrote about dinner parties in particular but this:
A recent WSJ.com article, “No McMansions for Millennials,” recommends houses of the future skip the dining room, but “don’t forget space in front of the television for the Wii, and space to eat meals while glued to the tube, because dinner parties and families gathered around the table are so last-Gen.” This is an architectural change that’s already happened in most apartments, where the sofa is much more important than the table.
… the sofa is much more important than the table
I find those two statements scary.
Over the past year, I have purposely worked to make the family dinner in my home not just a time of eating healthy food, but also a time of open communication and conversation. I’m not above using prompts. Laurie David’s “The Family Dinner” sits near our dining table. Since discovering The Huffington Post’s Family Dinner Downloads, we’ve incorporated them into our conversations weekly. Last week’s download about giving valentines in schools led to a lively half-hour discussion with three very different opinions (my youngest had strep throat and was asleep on the couch during that conversation).
Dinner time is the only time each day that I can count on having my boys’ complete attention, and sometimes (sadly) the only time they can count on having mine and my husband’s. To trade in our dinner table for “space in front of the television for the Wii, and space to eat meals while glued to the tube” would most likely mean the death of real conversation with our children.
Of course, the Wall Street Journal was not speaking about those in my generation (Gen X); it was talking about Millennials. Many Millennials have not started families yet, and they probably don’t know that the type of space they choose to live in makes a difference when they have children. (I certainly didn’t before my boys arrived. I knew I needed bedrooms for kids, but I didn’t think past that.)
We bought a home with a formal dining room because I wanted the space for dinner parties and big Thanksgiving dinners. Truth be told, we haven’t had anything close to a formal dinner party since before our second child was born. (Not that we don’t have friends over for dinner — it’s just never a formal occasion anymore.)
Once the formal dinner parties ended, we realized we had this one big room that was necessary for only one day a year – Thanksgiving. So we mixed things up a bit. Our formal dining room space is now my office and the boys’ homework room. We turned a small room off the kitchen into a cozy, warm dining area — much more conducive to sitting and lingering after dinner with conversation.
It occurs to me that perhaps the Millennials will have a similar experience to what we had. They’ll buy or rent a space that fits what they think they’ll need or want when they have families, but when the reality hits, they’ll figure out how to make that space work for their families.
They may not have a large dining space, or even a dining table, but hopefully they’ll figure out how to find a spot in their homes with a solid surface (not their laps on a sofa), a break from all things with a screen, and a cozy atmosphere for conversation.
In the meantime, I’m going to keep talking about the importance of the family dinner from time to time to remind the Millennials (and all generations) that it’s one of the best things we can do for our children.
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