Laura Vanderkam, the time management expert who wrote Off the Clock and Juliet’s School of Possibilities, is here to answer your scheduling questions. Check back every week for more advice, and send your own productivity problems to email@example.com. (Your name will not be used.)
Dear Laura: I keep reading about how important family dinner is for kids. But between work schedules and kid activities, we almost never sit down together for a home-cooked meal during the week. Will my kids be ruined for life?
For something as simple as gathering a group of people around a table, family dinner can be a fraught topic. Parenting books and articles tout statistics claiming that eating dinner together regularly is associated with better school performance and lower rates of drug use. A busy-and-feeling-guilty-about-it parent might easily conclude that the opposite is also true: Skip those dinners and your kids will drop out of school and turn into delinquents.
But any claims that this or that parenting behavior will define how kids “turn out” should be greeted with skepticism. It’s easy to confuse correlation and causation, and sure enough, more careful analysis finds that there’s little reliable data to suggest family dinner in itself plays such a pivotal role. It stands to reason: The sorts of families who sit down together for family dinners have lots of other things going for them that correspond with good outcomes. It isn’t the meal that’s working the magic.
Which is good, because many loving, functional families find during-the-week dinners challenging. In my household of six people, the odds that my husband and I are both there and no child needs to be at karate, swim, or something else between the hours of 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. are… low.
But you can get some of the upsides of family meals without driving yourself crazy trying to put a pot roast on the table, Norman Rockwell–style, on Tuesday night.
First, family meals don’t have to be weeknight dinners. There is nothing sacred…