I would do anything to create the best life possible for my daughter. Heck, we all want the best for our kids. It’s one of the reasons we work so hard.
But is the way we’re working truly setting our kids up for the best possible future?
If you’re slaving away at a job, even a well-paid job, that funds college accounts and buys nice things, but summarily empties your soul and steals your presence from the family, the answer is a resounding no.
Simple fact—being there counts even more than money.
A recent Harvard study followed the experience of 65 children over 8 years, in an effort to learn what factors and activities, from play to family events, were most determinative of a child’s healthy development. The results of the study were broadcast nationally to the near-universal thud of dropped-jaws.
The single most importance factor in a child’s likelihood of being well-adjusted and staying out of trouble was not household income, friends, schooling, extra-curricular activities or any of the other standard answers. It was how present the parents were.
More specifically, the best adjusted, least-troubled kids were those who ate dinner with their parents, as a family, most every day.
Backing up this conclusion is a 1997 survey by psychologist BS Bowden and JM Zeisz that tracked 527 teens ages 12 to 18. This study revealed the best adjusted teens were those who ate a meal with an adult in their family an average of 5.4 times a week. Those who were not as well-adjusted ate with an adult an average of 3.3 times a week.
“Well-adjusted” teens were more motivated at school, had better relationships and were less likely to be depressed or get involved with drugs, while those who were less well-adjusted showed the opposite tendencies.
In fact, sharing meals as a family was more closely-correlated with being well-adjusted than any other factor measured, including age, gender and family type.
Beyond being well-adjusted and happier…
Kids who share more family meals also perform better in school.
A Reader’s Digest poll of 2,130 high-school seniors shows that eating meals and even snacks together as families give students a huge edge in academic performance. And, this crossed lines of gender, race and socioeconomic class.
Similarly, researchers at the University of Illinois found that 7 to 11 year olds who spent more time eating meals and snacks with their families, performed substantially better on school achievement tests. And, their achievement was not affected by their mother’s employment status, full-time, part-time or not employed. (Cullen, KW and T Baranowski. “Influence of family dinner on food intake of 4th to 6th grade students.” Paper presented at The American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference,October 2000)
Interestingly, family meals also seem to serve as a powerful communication medium.
In 1993, Oprah Winfrey conducted her “Family Dinner Experiment,” which tracked the experience of five families who committed to eating dinner together every night for a month and staying at the table for at least 30-minutes.
Each family was required to keep a journal detailing their feelings.
At the start of the month, many participants resisted the experience and reported meals seemed to drag on.
By the end of the month, however, the tone was dramatically different, with most family members looking forward to the experience and planning on continuing to eat as a family after the experiment ended.
When asked to speak about their experiences during their appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, the parents universally expressed amazement at how much their kids came to value and look forward to being able to have their parents undivided attention for 30-minutes every day.
And, the research on family meals goes beyond improved psychological-adjustment to actual physical health.
Numerous studies show that kids who ate with families consumed more fruit and vegetables, dietary fiber, calcium, iron, folate, vitamins B-6, B-12, C and E and less fried food, saturated fats, trans-fats and soda.
Interestingly, kids who ate family dinners more often carried their healthier eating habits with them away from the home, too.
The research is clear.
When parents are present and involved on a daily basis, kids thrive on a level not experienced by those who suffer increasingly from virtual parent syndrome.
Sure, there are many challenges to being more present as a parent. Even as an entrepreneur, writer and speaker, with an unusual amount of control over my schedule, I struggle to find ways to ensure I am present for my wife and daughter on a daily, expectable basis.
But, it’s a struggle worth having.
And, if being there requires me to leave some money on the professional table in the name of keeping my connection with a kid who will, in turn, be more likely to be a better-adjusted, happier adult, that is a price I will happily pay.
So, what do you think? How do you balance the desire to earn money with the impact of being present in your family?
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