The series continues with Virtue 5.
Original author: Eric Foley.
Virtue 5: Preparing and eating meals together
Parents in the United States today are spending 40% less time with their children than parents in the US did thirty years ago. 40% less!
A lot of that lost time is due to the fact that American parents aren’t eating together with their children nearly as often these days. In fact, American families now eat together less than five meals a week. That means that there are at least two days a week when American families don’t eat even a single meal together.
How many meals do you eat together with your family each week? How about the families in your congregation? How often do they eat together each day?
My own experience suggests that these statistics about American families in general certainly seem accurate in the case of Korean American families in particular. Korean American parents often must work twelve to fifteen hour days six or seven days a week, which makes having dinner with their children almost impossible. And Korean American children are so involved with sports and after school activities that even if their parents are at home for dinner, they frequently are not.
Some Korean Americans may look at these statistics as simply inevitable. But there are two things that make these statistics particularly sad:
1. Research has demonstrated conclusively that the less a family eats together, the greater the likelihood that the children in that family will experience bad grades, poor nutrition, health problems, and troubled relationships with their peers. Likewise, research shows that the more a family eats together, the greater the likelihood that the children in that family will experience good grades, good nutrition, good health, and good relationships with their peers. In other words, the amount of time we eat together with our children determines more about their success in life than the amount of money we make or even how much time they’re spending in youth group!
2. We would hope that the Korean American church could be one place where Korean American families are able to share meals together. After all, Korean American churches do a wonderful job providing food every Sunday—and often during the week as well! But despite the joy I feel every time I attend a Sunday lunch at a Korean church, there is often something very sad that happens at these meal times: Teenagers and young adults are frequently absent from the table. Very few times do I see a teenager eating with their parents during the Korean American church meal time. If teenagers do stay after church to eat the meal, they often do it in another room or away from the rest of their families. This means that the Sunday church meal becomes just one more meal that Korean American families don’t share together. Even morning prayer can make it challenging for Korean American moms to eat breakfast with their children.
The end result, tragically, is that Korean American churches may accidentally be adding to the problem of our Korean American families not eating together, rather than helping to solve the problem. And, as research has shown, the less a family eats together, the more problems children in that family are likely to have.
In what ways is your church helping and encouraging families to share meals together? In what ways are your church’s activities making it less likely for families to share meals together? Are there ways you can creatively modify those activities so that your church can make it possible for Korean American families to spend more time together around the table?
According to research, the end result would be Korean American children getting better grades, having better health, and enjoying better relationships with their peers. Now THAT would be a great accomplishment for a Korean American church youth group!
Of course, we would not want to focus on these things and neglect spiritual matters. But even though research hasn’t been done on the subject of how sharing meals together impacts children’s spiritual growth, we would probably be safe to say that the more frequently children eat meals with their parents, the more likely it is that their parents can help shape their spiritual life as well.
There is no doubt that the Korean American church is in an especially strategic position to be a force for either good or bad in this issue. That is why next month we’ll offer you specific suggestions and practical help on how you can draw upon traditional Korean Christian cultural practices to enable the Korean young people in your congregation to prepare and eat meals together with their families.