Working in China brings an endless barrage of sights, sounds and experiences that I continually try to understand. In my effort to understand the Chinese people, I think their relationship to food and meals is a very good place to begin. If you meet a Chinese person before lunch, the typical greeting is: “Have you eaten yet?" "Are you hungry?" When meeting someone in the afternoon, you would greet him or her with "Are you full?" The age-old greeting of “Have you eaten?” goes back to a time when food was scare and people have to embark upon long journeys.
For a person that lives to eat, this is definitely a society that feels very friendly to my sensibilities. In addition, I there is see something important beneath this friendly greeting. In China, I see families eating together and engaged in lively conversation—young and old. In contrast I think of too many American families where eating together is a rarity or an activity saved for special occasions.
A recent article in the WSJ “Does Dinner Count If It's Really, Really Quick?” directed our attention to the importance of families eating together. The article pointed out the many benefits of families eating together—better grades, healthier body weight, and stronger relationships with parents and better overall mental health. It’s not the content of the conversations being delivered that matters. What makes eating together so important is that parents are paying attention, looking at and engaging with their child. In today’s frenetic and plugged in world, all too often children often become a “call waiting.” I cringe when parents tell me the best way of communicating with their children is with a text—easy, fast and to the point. Since when did raising children become synonymous with easy, fast and to the point?
I think it’s safe to say that parents all over the world want their children to thrive, both emotionally and intellectually. But what kind of experiences actually help a child thrive? Children need in the early years, stable, positive relationships with loving caretakers along with good learning experiences. So much of parenting is about the work of noticing and acknowledging a child’s feelings, dreams, hopes and fears. Children feel loved when they feel known and understood. Love, tenderness and affection—essential nutrients children need— require time and attention.
Mealtime is the ideal time to pay attention to your children. They need your attention and in turn, parents will feel more connected to their children and feel more satisfied in their role as parents. The conversation content can go in any direction—“How was your day?” “Did you learn anything that you are curious about?” Talk, about something happening in the world, in your neighborhood, your school, your workplace. Talk about something you read in a magazine, newspaper article, and a book. Talk about something you heard on TV or the radio?