Blog Good Ideas

An Epidemic of Wishful Thinking

January 24, 2014
Ice sculpture found hiking looks like prehistoric reptile.

Several reputable columnists I follow have recently drummed up the perennial theme of the benefit of the family dinnertime tradition. There seems to be a belief that we can only succeed as respectable, honest, and moral humans if young people break bread with their parents on a regular basis, which means a minimum of several times a week at a defined time. One columnist went so far as to recommend implementation of what sounded like family board meetings: writing a mission statement, creating a definition of core values particular to their clan, appointing weekly chairpersons, and engaging in communal activities (practicing how to climb out onto the roof in case of fire) to create bonding.

I have to admit that I burst into laughter after reading her column. I’m sorry. She suggested purchasing a family gavel to command our offspring’s attention, as in “Hey, kid, I’m talking here (thwack!) You’ll get your turn when I hand over the communal mallet to you next week, but until then, zip it and listen up!” Was she serious? Maybe it was wishful thinking on the columnist’s part, but it also sounded like Utopian satire.

I always thought Utopia was a pie in the sky sort of bucolic fantasy island dreamt up by Sir Thomas More in the 16th century. In fact, his work of fiction has been considered satire, what with the elimination of lawyers and private property, promotion of slavery, and encouragement of a welfare state. Everybody works (farming, for the most part), so there is no unemployment, meals are taken in a communal dining hall, and premarital sex is punishable by a lifetime of celibacy. It is a good real-life example for teenagers.

Traditional family dinner time.

This Marble Banded Iceasaurus was a recent rare find by expert hiker and photographer, Dr. Gil Anderson. I wonder if they, too, are one of those fabled creatures, similar to the nightly family dinner. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anderson.

Then again, there are those times when I think society is coming closer to perfection.

A month or so ago, I received an email from a local theater company thanking me for attending their production of Book of Mormon. They hoped the experience was special, and that we’d be back again soon to enjoy another performance in their facility. In the meantime, would I, could I complete a survey? The letter’s polite tone had caught my eye. It was so heartfelt, except for the fact that we hadn’t been to the show, nor had we purchased tickets. I emailed Dr. K, asking him, “Did we forget about this? Oops!”

I was still puzzled when, the very next day, there in my inbox was the real “oops,” a blush-faced apology from the theater, admitting that they had made a mistake. Inadvertently Utopian? Possibly. An example of what we would like real life to be? It certainly would be great if everyone were that polite.

So, back to dinner with the family. Do you truly think that the best quality time with your children can be achieved by enforced participation at mealtime and the thwack of a mallet? When I reflect on the best conversations with my kids, ever, they always occurred in the oddest of places, at the most unexpected of times. The same goes for spouses. Whenever you push someone to “just open up, already, and share your innermost thoughts,” you don’t always like what spills out. They may be tired from work or school, or someone else has been pushing their buttons that day, and they don’t need one more. Have you ever requested a pleasant response, and received an avalanche of anger? I know I’ve been guilty of unleashing a blizzard on a bad day if unexpectedly triggered. We’re all human.

I enjoy meals with my family, but only if they want to be with me. If they don’t, it’s just painful.

We have a fruitful tradition of Dr. K and I biking to breakfast on a Sunday morning (weather permitting), and the kids will work out, and then drive to meet us. Everyone gets exercise, everyone’s schedules are respected, and everyone enjoys sharing thoughts and ideas. When the kids were younger, the best conversations I had with them was in the car on the ride home from school, when their day tumbled out from their brains as they sat, obscure in the backseat, out of my range of vision. It was a relief for them, a chance at reconnection for me. And then there are the midnight conferences, the ones where the troubles won’t go away, when the angst nibbles our fragile emotions. That’s when it’s more important to climb up on the end of someone’s bed, and just listen.

Traditional family dinner time.

One of the best times for reaching out, sharing, and caring seems to be before dinner, hanging out in my office.

Kids these days have so much pressure to succeed: in school, in sports, in developing relationships. Time is precious; there is often too little of it. Moreover, with social media spotlighting what used to be private, there is a lot of strain. They know the entire world is watching. They need to be allowed a comfort zone so they are ready to share, on their terms.

Shouldn’t home be a haven for rejuvenation? Shouldn’t it provide a shelter to become reinvigorated so they can go out and conquer the world? How can children do that if a family is run like a business, monitored by the thwack of a mallet?

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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished,, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.



Award-winning Chick Lit author Emily Kemme writes about the quirks of human nature. Find musings, recipes, and satire on her blog, Feeding the Famished. Novels | Drinking the Knock Water: A New Age Pilgrimage | In Search of Sushi Tora | Other works in progress

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  • Reply Susan Todd September 2, 2017 at 9:50 am

    I like this blog as well. I guess when I read them after the fact, I can pick and choose… Most of your blogs are crisp and to the point with at least one outside perspective we readers may not have thought about.
    No one has the perfect formula how to raise children; and they are all different besides. Often we do have to wait until they are ready to open up to us. Sadly, it is when we are tired or stressed ourselves, but parents are required to tough it out. Patience, Listening, not Talking/Lecturing, Caring/Empathy… all buzzwords…. Really just Availability; Flexibility.
    I cherish the memories when they trusted me with their feelings, and appreciated me as a person, not just a mom. I did tell one of them that I was not their friend ( but their teacher sometimes). Now, as adults, we are friends.

  • Reply R. February 16, 2014 at 1:51 pm


  • Reply Kate January 25, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Always a good read…

  • Reply Charmaine Coppom January 25, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Really? A gavel? Does that writer have children? What a warm, inviting
    environmetn in which to “open up”. Because I worked outside the home
    while our children were growing up, we all had time constraints but we
    did try to eat dinner together, however rushed it might be. We didn’t focus
    on personal issues so much as discuss the bigger world: science, politics,
    outer space, etc. and, of course, “Anything important happen today at
    school?” We all shared in the conversations that could become hilarious,
    loud and passionate. I think those times kept us connected until we
    could vacation together. Those were the best times to communicate because
    there weren’t so many outside interferences. Travel together!!! And, of course,
    that sitting on the edge of the bed, just hanging out and caring for each
    other is better than therapy for everyone concerned. Great blog, Emily.

    • Reply Charmaine Coppom January 25, 2014 at 11:11 am

      What does “Your comment is awaiting moderation” mean? Too wordy?
      That would make sense!

    • Reply Emily Kemme January 25, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      Amen to your thoughts. I heartily agree to trying to fit in dinner with kids whenever possible, without them being subject to being moderated by a gavel. Yes, the writer does have children, and quite truthfully, her suggestions astounded me.

      Oh, and “comment awaiting moderation” simply means that I have to look at it to make sure it’s not spam. Then I approve! You may say as much as you like! It’s great when readers weigh in. This is what it’s all about!

  • Reply Annette January 24, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Enjoyed this column very much. Brought back memories of talks in the car and at the kitchen table when the others were asleep, great time for one on one even as my children came home with a spouse and children of their own

    • Reply Emily Kemme January 25, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      I like how you’ve continued the connection, even as your children grew up.

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