DIVORCE SALOON SPEAKS WITH FAMILY THERAPIST CARLETON KENDRICKS
DIVORCE SALOON: As a leading family therapist have you found that divorced parents have a harder time keeping up the routine of eating together with their children?
CARLETON KENDRICK: In both my professional and personal experience, I have found that recently divorced parents have had more difficulties maintaining frequent, regular family dinners with their kids than when the family was together under one roof. But only if they had previously established regular family meals together as regular routine.
Reasons for these initial and sometimes continuing difficulties are varied, from the children and/or the parents experiencing these family dinners as times that are too painful and too sad to endure in the wake of the divorce to the now divorced parents’ often new work schedules that make it more difficult to prepare regular family meals together.
With the passage of time and concommitant healing, divorced parents can and do establish new, family meal rituals, realizing their importance for the continuing, overall health and well being of their children and themselves.
DIVORCE SALOON. Why do you think that having dinner together as a family is so important even if the parents may be divorced?
CARLETON KENDRICK: It affirms on a deeply real and symbolic level that some precious times, moments, family experiences cannot be taken away by the divorce, even if one parent is no longer physically present at the dinner table. Yes, family dinners, like holiday celebrations, birthdays, etc., are now forever changed. But parents who maintain, respect and value these traditions are clearly, strongly stating that all these family traditions they will be no less important and cherished.
The family dinner also may continue to provide the parents and children (yes, also in two houses if that be the case) the one time during most days of the work week that they may gather together, face to face, and share their love, affection, appreciation, respect, support and solidarity. Shelter from the storms that linger post-divorce and healing from the grief, sadness and fears these storms bring are also afforded on a regular basis at the family table.
DIVORCE SALOON: Pre-divorce, do you think that failure to make time for family dinners on a regular basis contributes to the rate of divorce?
CARLETON KENDRICK: I have seen no evidence, either in my professional family counseling or in good, scientific studies that this one variable (regular family dinners) can be cited as contributing significantly to the divorce rate. That said, parents who do not make concerted attempts to spend frequent time together as a couple and together with their children as a family do risk weakening their connection as a couple and as a family.
DIVORCE SALOON: Pre-divorce, how can busy working couples balance their work and family lives so that eating dinner together becomes more routine?
CARLETON KENDRICK: Parents must first insist that eating regular, frequent meals together is a top priority, like the six families have done who are featured in the Let’s Fix Dinner Challenge videos.
Work/family balance must be determined by what you stand for and value most as a family, be that honesty, doing good deeds for others, integrity, doing things together as a family or eating regular family meals together. The ebb and flow of parental, child and family life flows from those fundamental choices. Once those core decisions are made, including the top priority of eating frequent, regular family meals together, the commitment to implement those decisions that show who you are as a family and what you stand for becomes easier and nonnegotiable.
DIVORCE SALOON: Specifically, what is the benefit to the children, whether pre or post divorce of dining together as a family?
CARLETON KENDRICK: A rather long answer follows. It touches upon other related issues as well as providing parents some concrete tips:
Sitting down at the table together is still one of the best ways for families to grow and stay connected.
Making family dinners a priority is not easy, but the long-term benefits are well worth the effort. The family dinner offers a natural forum that fosters togetherness. It can give all family members a chance to share their lives and to receive encouragement and support. Regular family meals also provide children with a much-needed safe haven of stability in a world that is often confusing and frightening.
Here are seven tips to help you get the most out of your family dinner:
1. Don’t feel guilty if family dinners are not a daily event. Start with what’s possible at the moment, naturally transitioning toward eating together as many times per week as possible.
2. Family discussions need not begin and end while seated at the dinner table. Family members, including even young children, may begin communicating while helping to prepare the meal and setting the table. Mealtime conversations may continue as the family clears the table and does the dishes.
3. The family dinner should be a relaxing, pleasurable occasion. Unpleasant topics, negative criticism, and passing judgment are not appropriate dinner conversation.
4. Always involve your kids in the dinner discourse. Their participation will not only make them feel more valued; it will also expose them to new language and ideas. The art of conversation and learning how to take turns speaking are important social skills for everyday life.
5. Specific questions to children (for example, “How many nibbles did you get on your line when you and Dad went fishing Saturday?”) are more likely to trigger conversation than general questions. (“How was your day today?”)
6. Laughter is the best dinnertime music.
7. Turn off the TV, radio and other electronic gadgetry. Unplug the phone, turn off your cell phones. Don’t let interruptions spoil this special time.
Having more family dinners may initially be met with some resistance, especially if they are not a regular part of your household schedule. In time, however, the pleasure and security they are guaranteed to provide will soon have everyone looking forward to coming to the table
DIVORCE SALOON: Why dinner? Why not breakfast or even another activity such as playing board games together? Why the element of food?
CARLETON KENDRICK: Family dinners don’t always have to be the only family meals shared. They also can be weekday or weekend breakfasts or lunches. What’s most important is communicating the importance and desirability of these family meals and enjoying the deep connection they continue to provide.
Change the family dinner location sometimes. How about an afternoon picnic, dinner under the stars, or Saturday breakfast in your child’s room?
Why food? We all need to eat. It’s a necessity. Given the work and school schedules/other commitments of parents and children, family dinners and all meals eaten in a family’s home potentially afford the only daily times when families most predictably can gather together and enjoy one another’s company. I strongly believe in the centuries old ritualistic importance of f amilies pausing, slowing down and preparing and eating family meals on a regular basis. This particular family tradition and ritual offers more frequent and regular, opportunities for healthy family and children’s growth and development that any other I know.
Board games (and all other family, recreational activities) are elective and also contribute to maintaining that parent/child/family connection.
DIVORCE SALOON: Thank you for speaking with us.
CARLETON KENDRICK: I hope these answers are of some worth and value for your readers. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to contribute.
Carleton Kendrick EdM., LCSW is a Family Therapist and Author of Take Out Your Nose Ring, Honey, We’re Going to Grtandma’s
Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University and is a licensed psychotherapist, noted national speaker, social commentator and author. His most recent major, national broadcast media appearances have been on CBS’s The Early Show, Good Morning America, Fox News Network and on the award-winning NPR radio program, The Infinite Mind. He appeared weekly to discuss family matters on the radio program, Women Aloud, and has been a regular contributor to the Fox Network and Martha Stewart Living Radio’s Kidstuff and other MSL programs. Kendrick appeared in December 26’s Christian Science Monitor, the December/January Girl’s Life, December 2009 Parents Magazine, November 20’s PsychologyToday.com, the November 8, Dallas Morning News, November’s Kiwi Magazine, November’s Moms Like Me Magazine, October 23 on San Francisco radio station KGO’s Gil Gross show, in the October 20 New York Daily News, September 26 Orlando Sentinel, September 11 Christian Science Monitor, an August 9, Fresh Start feature on Fox News Channel, was quoted in August 5’s Hartford Courant, on June’s MSNBC.com and appeared again in last April 17’s Family Circle.
He will be appearing soon in the February issue of Parenting Early Years magazine and in the March issue of Woman’s Day.
He has also appeared recently in Parade Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, Time, Woman’s Day, Ladies Home Journal, Parenting, USA Today, the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Plain Dealer, Globe and Mail, Arizona Republic, Baltimore Sun, Newsday, Parents Magazine and Good Housekeeping. His book, Take Out Your Nose Ring, Honey, We’re Going to Grandma’s: Hanging In, Holding On and Letting Go of Your Teen (Unlimited Publishing LLC) is available at major bookstores and leading online booksellers.
Kendrick was named by Family PC magazine as the “best Internet expert on parenting teens.”
NetClearly, a print publication which also maintains a web site, said,
“And some of the best parenting advice on the Web is found here, in the voice of Carleton Kendrick, who fields every question imaginable in his Family Therapy column, and offers dry-eyed but loving and sensitive solutions.”
Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national and international broadcast media such as CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, Fox, CNN, CNBC, National Public Radio, ABC National Radio, Sirius Radio and Voice of America as well as websites such as Oprah.com, WebMD.com, NPR.org., CBSnews.com, PsychologyToday.com and MSNBC.com.
In addition he’s been quoted in many publications, including:
New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Washington Times, Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Detroit Free Press, Dallas Morning News, Arizona Republic, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, Newsday, USA Today, Parade Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Newsweek, Time, BusinessWeek, Seventeen, Black Family Digest, Boy’s Life, Bottom Line Personal, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s World, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Redbook, Working Mother, Family PC, Parents and Parenting.He has been AOL Live Chat’s expert following several dramatic national events and tragedies affecting families and children, like JFK Jr.’s death and the Columbine massacre.
As resident, online family therapist and parenting expert for Familyeducation.com, he answered over 3000 questions from parents and adolescents and has written over two hundred essays and commentaries.
He continues to appear on national and regional TV and radio programs.
Kendrick has been a family therapist, speaker, educator and consultant for more than 30 years, and conducts parenting, motivational, corporate and work/family seminars nationwide on topics ranging from the relationship approach to parenting to maintaining family rituals.
He lives in Millis, Massachusetts and has two children.
DIVORCE SALOON SPEAKS WITH FAMILY THERAPIST CARLETON KENDRICKS