I had breakfast with my 12-year-old twins today - and 5 other twelve and thirteen year old girls! It's a PD day here and the girls had a sleepover in our basement last night. Over waffles and berries - made by the girls (my son and I were on clean-up) - we discussed the recent controversy over the dress code at school. We discussed sexual harassment at school and how girls can respond if a boy grabs their butt. And we discussed - well, demonstrated really - who could touch their nose with their tongue! THIS is why the experts say family meals are so important and why I recently set a goal of making sure I eat breakfast with my kids - with a Pandora reward of course!
In her most recent book, Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming, family nutrition expert Ellyn Satter says, "Time spent with families at meals is more related to the psychological and academic success of adolescents than time spent in school, studying, church, playing sports, or doing art activities." And family meals are not just about better nutrition. Satter writes, "Teens who had regular meals with a parent were better adjusted emotionally and socially, had better grades, and went further in school."
When I worked with families in a program for over-weight and obese children (through the Y and our local children's hospital) we discussed the importance of family meals. One of the most memorable outcomes for me, after a 12-week program, was that one of the fathers, who was a very hard-working man from the Philipines, who used to rush off to work very early in the morning, started having breakfast with his kids. That's it! Just made time to have breakfast with his children. But I wonder how that made his children FEEL? Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Despite the fact that I'm a big believer in the importance of family meals, I know that it is not easy to get everyone sitting down at the same time! For example, this past winter my husband played basketball on Monday nights, I taught a night course on Tuesday night, and my daughter had Girl Guides. Wednesdays my daughter had gymnastics, and Thursday my son had basketball - and my husband coached the team. And now that the spring is here my son is doing rugby two nights a week. Yup, definitely hard to fit in family meals! But what about breakfast?
A few months ago I met with a dietician to continue working on my recovery from my eating disorder and depression. Of course one of the things she asked was, do I eat breakfast? And I do, every day. But when she asked what TIME I eat breakfast I realized that I USED to eat breakfast WITH my kids and I hadn't been lately.
Amy, the dietician, asked what had changed. In looking back, I realized that I had changed some of the things I was sending for lunches for the kids and it seemed to take longer to prep the lunches. I was worried I wouldn't get the lunches done before the kids needed to leave for school. So rather than sit down with the kids to eat and THEN make lunches while they got dressed for school, I started making the lunches while THEY ate (by themselves) and I waited until after they left for school to eat MY breakfast (by myself). Unfortunately it meant my breakfast was put off for an hour - not a good idea for someone with an eating disorder!
I was impressed that Amy used goal-setting sheets, where you write down your goal, but you also figure out the actions steps to meeting that goal, as well as any barriers that might prevent you from achieving your goal. So, using these sheets, the first goal I set with Amy was "I will eat breakfast, with the kids, 5 days a week" (the Specific and Measurable in SMART goals). If I say 7 days a week and I miss ONE day I will focus on the one I missed rather than the SIX times I did eat with them. In cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) by the way, they label this cognitive (or thinking) error "discounting the positive." Of course sometimes we all get up at different times on the weekends, so a goal of 5 days a week is more attainable (the A in SMART goals) than 7 days a week. I had a Pandora reward in mind (the R for Reward-based). And I committed to doing that for four weeks (T - for Timed). This time frame was long enough to see any barriers and address them, but also long enough that I might see the benefits and be more invested in continuing.
Clearly, for me to eat WITH the kids AND get lunches made, I needed to get UP a few minutes earlier. So that was the first action step. Discussing any barriers or road blocks that might get in my way, I realized that my husband has the alarm clock, so he usually wakes everyone up. Meaning that one of the potential barriers to that all-important action step of getting up earlier was my husband hitting - or NOT hitting - the Snooze button! So the next action step was for me to set my OWN alarm, on my phone. And a barrier to THAT was not always hearing my alarm! So my third action step was, when I went to bed, I would check that the volume was loud enough AND check that the phone was not going to die in the middle of the night! Don't you hate when that happens?!
Often when we set goals, we forget to look at what obstacles might prevent us from achieving our goal. Then, when we (inevitably) fail, we feel badly about ourselves and have less belief in our ability to successfully make changes in our life. So when setting goals it is important to set ourselves up for success by planning. As Winston Churchill said during World War II, "He who fails to plan is planning to fail."
So after setting the goal, determining the necessary action steps, and troubleshooting any roadblocks, I managed to get up on time, eat with the kids, AND get the lunches made, before herding them out the door on time - every day for two weeks! By that time the new habit was well-established so I didn't bother to keep track after those two weeks.
The reward for me, in addition to this lovely rhodolite heart pendant for my "Treasured Hearts" bracelet, is that I feel much more connected with the kids, hearing about something that may have happened at a sport or activity the previous evening, or hearing about their day ahead. This kind of connectedness that comes from family meals has been shown to increase school performance and self-esteem, and decrease rates of depression and substance abuse. And of course I love it - because they are, after all, my "treasured hearts." And I "treasure" this time with my kids.