Many of you are familiar with the work of my colleague, Dr. Tim Clinton, who is co-host with me on the Family Talk radio broadcast. He and I share a deep commitment to the preservation of the institution of the family. Dr. Clinton is a licensed marriage and family therapist and is a recognized authority on mental health and relationship issues. He recently published a book entitled Focus on the Future. It addresses many important family-related topics, including a discussion of “the family table.”
On January 9th, just in time for New Year’s resolutions, foxnews.com published an excerpt from Dr. Clinton’s book and titled it, “Resolve to spend more time around the family dinner table in 2022.”
This article, and the book, are thought-provoking. The remainder of my letter this month discusses these ideas. Here are Dr. Tim Clinton’s comments:
We are made to live in community with families and friends. That’s why there’s nothing more beautiful than having a relationship with someone who is supposed to love you and actually does, and there’s nothing more painful than having a relationship with someone who is supposed to love you and doesn’t.
As a counselor, I’ve studied some exciting breakthroughs in behavioral science that verify what God said in Genesis 2:18: "It is not good for man to be alone." Indeed!
A new field of investigation has emerged, which researchers call "interpersonal neurobiology" or "interpersonal neuroscience." One important finding from that arena is that the human mind is highly dependent on personal relationships. From birth, our neurons form and fire not only because of genetic patterns, but also in response to interactions with other people. We know this because imaging allows us to observe the brain working when humans interact. The result is both psychological and biological. Positive relationships not only change our brains, but also influence the way we experience the world. Even the way we perceive God impacts how we relate to one another.
Consider the experience of sharing your life history with another person and then feeling understood by him or her. This feeling of empathy from someone who cares produces a calming effect on one’s limbic system that is similar to the impact of certain drugs, such as Ativan. Experiencing satisfying interactions encourages the brain to use the robust, neural circuits of the middle prefrontal cortex. It also helps to regulate our emotions and increases flexibility and perseverance. It even assists in controlling our most troublesome impulses.
Clearly, human beings are wired to benefit from satisfying contact with others, such as what occurs when
seated at a family dinner table. A generation or two ago, those daily rituals occurred so regularly that it would have been odd to study them specially. But today, with our accelerated pace of living and the often relationally broken American family, many authorities are turning their attention to the astonishing benefits that come
to those who regularly eat with family members.
The Family Dinner Project is an organization devoted to the study of regular family meals. Its website (thefamilydinnerproject.org) offers recipes, topics for dinner conversation, and ways to draw people in from the wider community.
Here are more findings from the Project report: children who are regularly involved in family meals perform better in school. They don’t just earn higher grades—they often enjoy learning, and their sense of well-being increases accordingly. These children are also more likely to enjoy higher self-esteem because they feel the security of being part of a devoted family. In addition, kids who eat with their loved ones are often more resilient. This is likely because they hear their family members talking about what they’ve experienced and
how they have overcome obstacles. Eating together regularly also helps to build a legacy of love.
By contrast, people who do not have satisfying relationships at home often suffer the painful trauma of loneliness. We should not only be sensitive to those we love, but also to those outside the family.
As a Christian, I believe God loves us and seeks to connect with us emotionally. Psalm 34:18 tells us, “He is
close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Clearly, relationships matter to our Heavenly Father.
In this new year, I hope parents will resolve to spend more time together around the table.
Thank you, Dr. Clinton, for this cogent word of advice for today’s families. Greetings also to the families we love.
This letter may be reproduced without change and in its entirety for non-commercial and non-political purposes without prior permission from Family Talk. Copyright, 2022 Family Talk. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Printed in the U.S. Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk is not affiliated with Focus on the Family.