Has the drive to and from soccer training demolished your family dinner?

Posted by on 22 April, 2010

Love driving? Hate being at home in the evenings? Then taking on extra activities for your kids could be for YOU!!

Hands up who gets to eat dinner as a family more than three times a week? It’s a noble aim to be sure with 3 being the magic number that sees kids have fewer brushes with the law as they get older, less obesity and less mental health issues. But from where I sit, the family dinner is becoming a threatened species. It’s not dad’s work or the intransigence of a 6pm tea time that is tearing apart the family tea time ritual in the 21st century. No sir. Blame it on the after school activities.

I’ve flown the flag hard against the scourge of ballet lessons, tennis coaching and, especially extra Maths or English classes for years. I reckon Ian Thorpe’s mum deservers a medal for setting her alarm for 4:45am every single blinking day n the name of her son’s swimming career. As for the rest of us without sporting superheroes on our hands, the idea of spending the cash equivalent of a fabulous family holiday on extra classes and uniforms to sit in a car and ferry around the kids so they can move from below average to average in a tutu is anathema. Forget it. Pick one activity each and I’m in. Start talking piano and cricket and tuba and I’m leaving home.

I understand that children need to be socialized. That’s why I send mine to school. I understand they should do sport. But with a series of studies failing to find any benefit from anything less than an hour a day of sport (whether co-curricular or extra-curricular) for kids in terms of weight, blood pressure or other health measurable, I’m not prepared to spend hours of my life in a car. Not when I could be spending quality time in the laundry. Or with the kids chatting in our kitchen.

A quick straw poll of my friends and patients has found that most are spending less time together eating a meal as a family as their afternoon and evening time gets cannibalized by the children’s voracious appetite for after school activities. I was feeling very smug and superior until Sam, my eldest started driving. Unfortunately for me, the downside of Sam getting his own car is that all of a sudden, my boys are out doing their sport until 8pm or later each night 4 evenings a week. I can no longer say no. And our chances to eat dinner as a family have dwindled. I miss the boys terribly.

Given that so much research has found that it’s time spent sitting together as a family over a meal that yields massive dividends for the physical and emotional health of our kids (please note the TV was specifically excluded as a family member for all of this research), should we be stricter in limiting our children’s time with their coaches and tutors and demanding they come home while we still have the power to call the shots?

What do you think?