Little House on the Prairie is, for most of us, an iconic and endearing representation of the simpler side of life. A charming nod to a day gone age of living field to table, fist in the dirt and sewing machine to back. If asked which scenes from Little House on the Prairie left the greatest impression on me, I would have to answer simply, ‘the family mealtimes’.
When the darkness of night fell, the Ingalls family members (the main protagonists of the show) would return home from the farm, the town or the schoolhouse. They would gather around their table in their tiny but cozy kitchen. There, they would excitedly listen to the father’s accounts of the journey of his day, the new people he met arriving in the town, or the new plans he had conjured for their farm. For the mother, dinner times might be the busiest time of her day, where she happily welcomes home her beloveds with warm meals imbued with love and care. The two daughters of the Ingalls family can seemingly hardly contain their exuberance in sharing endless stories about their school and friends, the crushes they might have or the unresolved conflicts they might be experiencing.
This precious time for sharing not only helped to connect the family together but eased their individual stress and worries and strengthened their will to carry on in the midst of the vast and wild prairie in which they lived. Beside the roaring fire, the conversation sometimes vibrant other times silent, seemingly melted away severe storms or the frigid cold of winter knocking at the door from just outside, leaving the house full of love, joy, and hope.
There is something nostalgic about this atmosphere. Despite never having experienced it for me, I somehow find myself pining for a time before our own. Amid the hustle and bustle of today’s modern world, family dinner times can easily be neglected, with excuses of long working hours and extracurricular activities. Families can move in every which way leaving little time for breaking bread together in the evening. And thus, people are losing one of the most valuable aspects of family life. It is not only about the ingredients obtained but also the atmosphere that is beneficial to both our physical and mental health.
Family dinners can serve as an opportunity to nurture communication and ties between family members, foster mutual understanding and sympathy. It is the time where we can review the events of the day, draw lessons from each other and share our thoughts with our family members. When a family sits down together, it helps each individual member to handle the stresses of daily life and form bonds like no other.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University has unveiled several benefits to sharing family mealtimes.
The more often children eat dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use illicit drugs. The center compared teens who dined with families five or seven times a week with those who did so twice or less. Those who ate together more often were four times less likely to smoke, 2.5 times less likely to use marijuana, and half as likely to drink alcohol.
CASA also reports that family dinners have a similar link to mental health. Adolescents and young adults who seek treatment for depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems are about half as likely as their peers to have regular family meals.
Given all that, it is recommendable to cherish and apply the practice that can do so much good for ourselves and our family. Let the warmth and love of family energize ourselves to overcome challenges and burdens that we might face, together. Maybe we have something to learn from the simpler times of Little House on the Prairie, in such a simple act we can begin to heal.