For years I have been hearing that healthy families, families with children who don’t become drug addicts or wastrels, eat dinner at the dinner table. No watching TV, no failing to show up due to soccer commitments. It is implied that, if a family chooses not to adhere to this trope, they are doomed. Also, irresponsible and asking for trouble. And bad.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, our daughter Ginsberg is so well-adjusted we are always startled when she is not upset. We, her neurotic parents, would be depressed for days if someone criticized our art, or blamed us for something that wasn’t our fault, or just looked at us cross-eyed. Or at all. (“They’re mocking us!” we often exclaim when driving about town. How dare people in other cars look at us?) Ginsberg gets annoyed, and then she forgets all about it. Often, we project our feelings onto her mentally healthy slate, only to realize she doesn’t even remember the incident we are sure is whittling away at her self-esteem.
Ginsberg is so psychologically sound she is patient with us when we act this way.
I can’t remember the last time we ate at a dinner table. Our table is in a room we hardly ever enter, except to clean up cat vomit or wrap presents. We eat on the couch, and we watch scads of TV. We also pause frequently to rant, ask for clarification, or discuss why the Bridezilla in this episode is actually right about the centerpieces. We try to guess who is the murderer. We tell anecdotes, or explain how the news (all news, everywhere — even Jon Stewart occasionally gets something askew) is misrepresenting the facts. We also like to disdain the overuse of eye makeup and trendy fashion.
So, as usual, when someone says a family must do X to be healthy, they are looking at a side issue, not the meat of the problem. Healthy families talk; healthy families like one another; healthy families want to hear what everyone has to say. The dinner table is just a piece of wood, people. And TV is a part of the world, made insanely convenient to observe.