Saturday, October 15, 2011

Grateful for small things

It’s simple daily rituals that really enrich a child’s life and happiness
In the past couple of weeks my family has adopted a little ritual that I thought probably wouldn’t last, but it has become an integral part of our day, improving our children’s behaviour and making us all feel more loved, more appreciated and more in touch with one another.
But before I divulge this little gem of an idea, I was inspired to write this column after reading a news story last week entitled “Dads missing out on important family time”. 
Apparently a report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that dads who worked longer hours were less likely to make it home for the evening meal, and therefore missing out on precious bonding time.
Sitting around the dinner table with the children is an integral part of family life and has been for many generations.
With technology encroaching on our face-to-face time, I have no doubt that many families eat their evening meal in front of a computer, iPad or television, and quite often in separate rooms.
But how is that engaging with your loved ones?
Figures show that nearly half of fathers with partners do not make it home for dinner every night when their children are aged 2-3, while more than a third are at the dinner table only a few times a week.
The figures improved as the children got older as 65 per cent of kids aged 8-9 had their dads home for dinner.
There have been other studies of this nature in the past and the results have been the same.
Families with older teenagers eat fewer dinners together than those with young children, Late working hours, long commutes and other conflicting activities (such as taking children to sports) are to blame.
However, according to Dr Timothy Sharp, in his book 100 Ways to Happy Children, eating together as a family can have extraordinary benefits.
Various studies have found that children of families that eat together regularly are:
- less likely to use drugs, alcohol and tobacco
- more likely to eat their vegetables, and have better nutrition generally
- less likely to suffer from depression later in life
- less likely to become anorexic
- more likely to do well at school.
Dr Sharp says this does not mean that eating together causes these outcomes, but there is a strong correlation between eating together and whole range of very positive behaviours and outcomes.
“Eating together provides nourishment and provides a sense of emotional connection, ritual and the opportunity to share information,” he said.
For many families eating together every night is not a realistic expectation, so it’s important that parents work hard to ensure they spend quality family time together at other times during the week.
My family have always enjoyed our evening meals together at the table, and although the television is on most nights, we regularly hit the mute button.
But here’s the bit you’ve been waiting for... we’ve been practising gratitude.
Sound cheesy? Perhaps it is, but we all feel so much better for doing so.
Miss Five has become very eager to participate each night, declaring all the things that happened in her day that she is grateful for, then both my husband and I express our gratitudes.
Sometimes it’s as simple as being grateful it didn’t rain so the nappies would dry on the line, or something deeper relating to health, relationships, finance or family.
In this busy world we live in where we are constantly trying to be better at everything, earn more money and be more successful, we get stuck in the cycle of wanting more, and forget the gifts of what we have right now.
By eating together every night, and practising gratitude, I’m in no doubt that our measure of happiness is growing each day.

"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, 
but gratefulness that makes us happy."
- David Steindl-Rast


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