This could also be subtitled "Duh"... So raise your hand if you were even the least little bit excited back when all those studies about the positive impact of The Family Dinner Table were being bandied about.
"Awesome!" you thought, "All I have to do is make my kids sit down to eat dinner a lot, and we are GOOD to go! None of that sturm und drang adolescent crap for my family!"
Okay, now raise your hand if, when you heard all those talking heads on TV and Twitter and Facebook telling you with an expensive grin that Kids Who Eat Dinner At The Table With Family Turn Out Better, you thought, "wut?"
Looks like you, that tiny little group out there whose hands I can barely see, won!
A study by Cornell's Kelly Musick and U of Minnesota's Ann Meier being published in June's Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy says that while, yeah, there are some good things about eating dinner with your kids at the table regularly, the associations between all the study variables don't quite add up to the happy-happy-dinner-table-as-therapy-prophylaxis as the media spewed.
Here's a link to the paper (the link may stop working once the publication comes out...) If you're not keen on reading research analyses, you can head straight for the "Discussion" section near the bottom. Some snippets:
"What, then, does our study say about the “magic” (Gibbs, 2006) of the family meal? We end on a cautionary note to parents and policy makers eager to find ways to improve family functioning and the fortunes of children... Family dinners may be part and parcel of a broader package of practices, routines, and rituals that reflect parenting beliefs and priorities. Interventions aimed at increasing the frequency of family meals may be successful only if they can change the family habits that tend to go along with eating as a family."
As Musick is quoted in the pre-pub press release, "... it’s unclear how well family dinners would work unbundled from the rest of that [broader] package [of practices, routines, and rituals...]"
SO, you're saying that if some other parts of our relational lives at home aren't optimal, that simply eating together won't fix everybody?? Damn.
Just a few more Magic Pills to flush down the toilet.
Oh, but do keep feeding your kids. (But if your tendency is to slap them upside the head now and then in between fork-fulls, y'all feel free to eat in separate rooms again.)