The concept of “the family meal” remains elusive — more nostalgia than reality — for many modern families. But it’s still worth striving for, according to a recent analysis by public health researchers at Tufts, who found that frequent family meals can reduce the likelihood that teenagers, particularly girls, will develop problems ranging from alcohol and tobacco use to eating disorders and depression.
Despite the benefits, researchers report that less than 60 percent of children eat five or more meals with their parents each week.
I asked the lead researcher, Margie Skeer, an assistant professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, a little about her analysis, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Here, lightly edited, is what she said:
RZ: What happens at family meals that may be protective against risky behavior, like substance abuse, or other mental health problems?
MS: If family meals are frequent and consistent, mealtime can serve as a conduit for open, ongoing communication, where people come together to not only eat, but to talk about their day. In this regard, mealtimes can provide for a baseline level of communication, whereby parents/guardians can learn about the everyday, ongoing aspects of their children’s lives — both important and ordinary. This can create an environment that allows for the development of three crucial features of the parent-child relationship. Continue reading
If the past weekend ensnared you in a complex web of family dynamics, drama and relationship stress, you’re not alone.
But, according to a fascinating story in The Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Bernstein, the specifics of those family dynamics are meaningful. Indeed, the relative strength of certain family bonds may be a factor in determining whether your own marriage remains intact, she writes, and the role of the son-in-law (of all people) appears to be particularly important:
One finding of a 26-year longitudinal study of married couples is that marriages in which the husband reports feeling close to his in-laws are more likely to last for the long haul. “These ties connect the husband to the wife,” says Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. “They say, ‘Your family relationships are important to me because you are important to me. I want to feel closer to them because it makes me feel closer to you.'”
New research examines the powerful relationship between married couples and their in-laws. (Photo: Epiclectic/flickr)
And another study concludes:
In couples where the husband initially reported being close to his wife’s parents, the risk of divorce over the next 16 years was 20% lower than for the group overall. Yet when the wife reported being close to her in-laws, that seemed to have the opposite effect: The risk of divorce with these couples was 20% higher.
Dr. Orbuch has a possible explanation: The wife who feels close with her husband’s parents may find it difficult to set boundaries and over time may come to see their close relationship with her as meddling. Continue reading
CNN.com just posted a lovely, and highly personal essay that Carey wrote on marriage. More specifically, it’s about why marriage, with all of its chaos and complexity and state-sanctioned fuddy-duddiness, is — unbelievably, given how she got there — the sweet center of her life.
Here’s a taste of her delicious writing:
What happened to me? What happened to the independent woman who, by the time she married for the first time at age 44, felt no particular need for a piece of paper from City Hall?
It is this. Day in and out, through lunch-packing and play date-making and bath-running, I am struck by a surprising truth: Though the raising of our children constitutes the central activity of our family, it is the love between Sprax and me that constitutes its ineffable core.
That sounds like a traditional religious point of view, but we are not religious. I’ve come to this understanding simply as an observer of my own heart and the family dance. It is, apparently, just an emotional fact of life — at least, of our life.
What baffles me is that I was perfectly able to have Liliana without being in a committed, loving relationship with Sprax, and our semi-family life was really quite happy in that formation. We all got along; Sprax would visit two or three times a week; Liliana got plenty of love and structure.
But since he and I reunited, our bond has become the family’s invisible center, the axis of its spokes. I did not need a husband. But I need him.
Last week the big news was that when men become fathers, and take on more of the tasks of parenting — from diapers to day care — their testosterone levels drop precipitously.
This week, researchers from Johns Hopkins report that sexual activity also decreases among married women who make the domestic decisions. Indeed, they found this striking correlation: the more household decisions woman make on their own, the less sex they have.
From the press release:
In Sub-Saharan Africa, women who are empowered to make household decisions tend to have sex less often. This is according to a study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. They examined the relationships between married women’s autonomy and the time since most recent sexual intercourse and found that women’s position in their household may influence sexual activity. The full article will be published in the October issue of the Journal of Sex Research.
“A very consistent pattern was observed across all six countries we surveyed—as the number of decisions in which a women had the final say increased, the mean and median time since most recent sex also increased by three- to 100-fold,” said Michelle Hindin, PhD, MHS, lead author of the study and an associate professor at the Bloomberg School’s Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health. “The more decisions a woman reported making on her own, as compared to joint decision making, the less likely she was to have sex and the longer it was since she last had sexual intercourse.”
Taken together, these findings do not bode well for the sex lives of parents today.