Sunday, September 26, 2010

Of Family Dinner

Writes Caitlin Flanagan (told you I loved her!):

"Their [writers of family dinner advice] notions about the meal and its importance in family life are rooted in middle-class American assumptions about how and when parents and children ought to interact.  What they are loath to admit is that the great missing element of that kind of existence is not dinner gongs or lists of conversations starters.  It's a kind of family life in which expectations have not been raised, but radically lowered.

"It requires a mother who considers putting dinner on the table neither an exalted nor a menial task, and also a collection of family members whose worldly ambitions are low enough that they all happen to be hanging around the house at six-thirty.  For family life to mimic the postwar ideal that is our current fixation, we would need to revive the cultural traditions that created it: the one-income family, the middle-class tendency toward frugality, and the understanding that one's children's prospects won't include elite private colleges and stratospheric professional success, both of which may hinge on tremendous achievements in the world of extracurricular activities.

"If children are to have unstructured time, they need a mother at home; no one would advocate a new generation of latchkey children.  But she must be a certain kind of mother--one willing to divest her sense of purpose from her children's achievement.  She must be a woman willing to forgo the prestige of professional life in order to sit at home while her kids dream up new games out in the tree house and wait for her to call them in for a nourishing dinner.  She must be willing to endure the humiliation of forgoing a career and of raising tots bound for state college."

Taken from To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing our Inner Housewife, "The Executive Child."


  1. I like CF too, although I have to admit to feeling some strain on our relationship when she got into how overwhelmed she was taking care of her kids when she had--wait for it--a nanny.

  2. Yes, I know. The very next article in the book explains how she has a maid. And a gardener. But I admire her for sitting out to write about topics she herself struggles to understand, and proposing lifestyles that directly contradict her own.